Northern Ireland sports journalism lost one of its most colourful characters with the |sudden death in Belfast yesterday of Paddy Toner. He was 77.
He had been ill for some time with Alzheimer’s but courageously and with the care and help of his wife Marjorie and daughter Deborah, he |refused to let his spirit deteriorate along with his body.
Life was full of fun for Paddy. Every day seemed like Christmas to him. His sense of humour, the wisecracks, one-liners, his stories and escapades had his colleagues and friends in fits of laughter.
Paddy, whose brother Alex, also a journalist, died two years ago, was a member of the Albert Foundry Athletic Club. He was Northern Ireland and Irish 100 yards champion and competed in the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games team.
In fact, only recently he attended a reunion of the group along with Ulster’s golden girl, Dame Mary Peters.
Born in Belfast, he entered journalism in the Fifties first with the Irish News, then on the |Sunday People, Thomson’s Weekly News, and finally as a freelance.
He covered football, was a founder member of the Northern Ireland Football Writers Association and the highlight of this phase in his career was the never-to-be-forgotten 1982 World Cup in Spain where he carried all his documentation and money in a shoulder bag like a jolly swag man. He never let it out of his sight and hid it during hours of sleep.
Boxing, however, was his forte and he ranks as one of the finest writers on the fight game during an outstanding era of Irish sports journalism.
He judged contests with accuracy, his knowledge of the sport was deep and boxers respected and trusted him for he was a man of his word.
Paddy was a master of Ulster humour and the wit of his native city.
You never heard him swearing or bad mouthing people; he reserved criticism for his columns. What a wonderful companion when covering events either at home or abroad. The anecdotes about him are part of newspaper folklore. There was that day in Belfast when Sonny Liston, one of the most remarkable world heavyweight boxing champions, arrived two hours late for his media conference in Bannon’s furniture store. Stroking his beard Paddy welcomed Sonny who sat almost moronic. “Thanks Castro” he slowly replied.
And the afternoon at a Distillery-Linfield game at the old Grosvenor Park when a colleague, a Second World War veteran, arrived half-an-hour late, tired and a little emotional announced he had been celebrating Alamein Day in the Rifles Club. “Is that when you put sand in the pints for old time’s sake!” quipped Paddy.
He was a one-off, a valued team performer, and a true professional. It is the end of an era.
To Marjorie, Deborah and grand-daughter Vanessa, whom he adored. All in sport extend their sincere condolences.