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Jun 6 '16 | By La Afrique Media | Views: 189 | Comments: 0

He was the most seductive sportsperson, never mind boxer, on the planet, and when he came to Ireland in 1972 to fight Al “Blue” Lewis at Croke Park the entire country fell in love with Muhammad Ali.

The Irish Times sent a reporter and photographer to Dublin Airport to capture the boxing butterfly’s touchdown on Irish soil.

The champ was in fine form, mouthing off about his archenemy Joe Frazier and, as the page-four news story had it, “brandishing an oversized shillelagh”.

Our photograph records the innocent chaos of the day. Behind Ali’s left shoulder a Garda tries in vain to stem the tide of well-wishers, attempting to clear a path through the merry melee with his bare hands.

The whole photo, in fact, is a show of hands. I’ve counted a dozen sets of digits reaching for the star, with those of the man in the beret taking centre-stage in a kind of slow-motion dance towards the most famous fists in sporting history.

The great man, meanwhile, is signing an autograph – with what is surely one of the most unprepossessing biros ever to be employed for the purpose.

On the left of the picture, perilously close to Ali’s stomach, another unidentified sticky paw holds aloft what appears to be a knitting needle but is actually – as far as I can make out – the aerial of a radio.

In the best tradition of celebrity snapshots ours features, in the foreground, two anonymous small boys.

They look slightly stunned, as if they’d expected to be nabbed by the long arm of the law long before they got so close to their idol. Their hands are extended towards each other, perhaps in congratulation, perhaps by way of warning: okay, get ready to run . . .

The tousle-headed 12-year-old on the left is looking into the distance. Perhaps, like many Irish boys at the time, he is seeing himself as a future boxing champion.

It didn’t work out quite like that: but he has spent his working life at the centre of the news business. For his name is Liam Kavanagh, and he grew up to be managing director of The Irish Times.

The Times We Lived In: Everyone wants a piece of Muhammad Ali at Dublin Airport

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