Brilliant Freddie Gilroy was one of my idols, says Barry McGuigan
Barry McGuigan led the tributes that poured in for legendary Belfast boxer Freddie Gilroy, who has died aged 80.
Gilroy won Olympic bronze at the 1956 Melbourne Games in the bantamweight division before turning professional and winning British, Commonwealth and European titles.
His 1963 showdown with Belfast rival John Caldwell for the British and Empire titles has gone down as one of the greatest contests ever staged in Ireland, Gilroy winning but retiring immediately afterwards.
A cut to Caldwell's eye in a brutal battle had stopped him from carrying on.
Ulster legend McGuigan - former World featherweight champion and manager of local hero Carl Frampton - held Gilroy in the highest regard.
"I always looked up to Freddie - he was one of my idols," explained McGuigan.
"Freddie was a big influence on me, a very talented and brilliant boxer.
"His fight with John Caldwell has gone down in boxing history as one of the greatest ever contests on these shores.
"It's a very sad day for Irish boxing. Deepest sympathies to his family," he added.
Frampton, who fights Leo Santa Cruz for the WBA featherweight title - McGuigan's old belt - in New York on July 30, tweeted his condolences last night.
Gilroy lost on points to France's Alphonse Halimi in a World bantamweight title fight in 1960.
Former World flyweight champion Dave 'Boy' McAuley pointed out that Gilroy's feats were achieved in an age when winning titles was a much tougher task than in the modern age.
"When Freddie was at his peak there were only a handful of champions and British, Commonwealth and European titles were a lot harder to come by too," said the Ballygally hotelier.
"Freddie was a true great. Everybody knows about his fantastic fight with John Caldwell.
"Freddie is one of the finest boxers Ireland has ever produced.
"I met Freddie on numerous occasions and we always had a good yarn. He was a very nice man, very down to earth."
Legendary local boxing coach Gerry Storey has known Gilroy for over half a century.
"I was just so sad when I heard the news - Freddie and I go way back," said Storey.
"I would have been chatting to him on a regular basis.
"He was a great fighter, a terrific ambassador for boxing.
"Freddie's fight with John Caldwell was one of the most exciting contests ever seen in Ireland.
"Even the build-up to the fight was exciting because everybody knew it was going to be a great fight and they weren't disappointed.
"Back in those days British, Commonwealth and European titles meant so much more than they do now.
"Back then they carried the importance that some World titles carry now. The standards then were so much higher.
"There were fewer titles available because there were far fewer weight divisions. Winning a title really meant something so Freddie's right up there with the best of them."