Brian O'Neill: The Irish are ready to rumble in the 'Burgh

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This shouldn't work. Nobody should go from running a kids' Sunday night basketball camp to putting together an international boxing match in the span of a few months.

But these are the Pittsburgh Irish we're talking about. This is the same crowd that held the St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1993 as God was dropping 23 inches of snow on the marchers, their logic being, hey, it's not like it's hailing.

Thus we'll have the first Donnybrook between Team Pittsburgh and Team Ireland March 17. A team of Irish amateur boxers will fly in, ride a float in the parade and then have at least nine bouts that Monday night with local fighters in the Grand Hall on the North Side.

The Irish team is coached by Ireland's first Olympic boxing gold medalist, Michael Carruth, so don't expect any slouches.

Mr. Carruth is flying in this weekend to take a bus ride with the organizers to a half-score of Irish pubs and sports bars on Monday and Tuesday night to promote the fisticuffs and sell some of the 700 tickets.

The promoters are as surprised as anyone that this has come together so quickly.

The lead guy has been Mike Diven, the former city councilman and state representative whose late father, Joey, has been called the greatest street fighter who ever lived.

Jimmy Cvetic, the ex-cop/poet/youth boxing gym founder, is corralling the fighters. Tom Rooney -- who squired the legendary fight promoter Don King around before a Civic Arena title fight three decades ago -- is showing the others how you go big.

"This is the beginning of something wonderful,'' Mr. Cvetic said.

Even for Pittsburgh, once a big fight town, this is a first.

In the 1930s, Wednesdays were fight nights at the Duquesne Gardens in Oakland; in the '40s and '50s, boxers such as Jake LaMotta and Jersey Joe Walcott fought for titles at Forbes Field; and as late as 1981, Larry Holmes defended his heavyweight crown at the Civic Arena.

The list of local champs is also long -- Harry Greb, Fritzie Zivic and Billy Conn, to name a few -- but never has a country sent a contingent to take on Pittsburgh.

Mr. Diven is a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians chapter in the South Hills. That's an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization that predates the Civil War in this country, and goes back 300 years in the old country.

Mr. Diven and boyhood chums Ian Barrett, Dan Ridge and their fraternal brothers put together and ran a youth basketball camp at Seton-LaSalle High in November and December. In the midst of that, Jim Lamb of the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh reached out and they began plotting this boxing extravaganza.

The triumvirate of volunteers, Mr. Diven, Mr. Cvetic and Mr. Rooney (he's Art Rooney Sr.'s nephew and Dan's cousin, if you're scoring at home), shared some of this with me last week at the Grand Hall. The venue once was St. Mary's Church, an ethnically German church back in the day, in a neighborhood that calls itself Deutschtown. Yet these guys even found Irish angles there.

John Graf, who runs the hall, is a Hibernian, and Christof Mueller, who runs the Irish airline Aer Lingus, is a German. The Hibernians have already promised Mr. Mueller they'll give him a tour of the neighborhood's German restaurants and Teutonia Mannerchor if he can fly in with the boxers.

Proceeds will be split among the Ireland Institute, the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League and the Hibernian Celtic Athletic Fund, so it's all about youth athletics. Matty Conway, an 18-year-old from Brookline who has spent half his life in the boxing ring, appreciates that more than most.

Mr. Conway has fought in at least 10 states, but he says he has heard Mr. Carruth combed his country to find a worthy Irish opponent: Kieran Bates, 25, of Dublin, who has 57 victories against 18 losses.

Young Mr. Conway says he's always wanted to visit Ireland but now, in a very real sense, Ireland is crossing the Atlantic looking for him.

"That makes me feel good," he said.

Correction, posted Feb. 7, 2014: The spelling of Fritzie Zivic's first name has been corrected.

Brian O'Neill: or 412-263-1947.

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