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Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell rivalry set pair apart

By David Kelly

In recent times there have been very few - if any - local boxing rivalries to stir the blood but, in days gone by, Irish boxing enjoyed them aplenty, with Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell among the very best.

Both men had won Olympic bronze medals as professionals, Caldwell the World bantamweight title and Gilroy the European crown. It was inevitable their paths would cross and so it came to pass on October 20, 1962 as local author Barry Flynn recalls in his new book 'Best of Enemies, John Caldwell v Freddie Gilroy'.

Flynn does not merely focus on that memorable night - when my Belfast Telegraph predecessor Jack Magowan said they "went at each other like alley cats" - but tracks their respective journeys to the point of combat at an atmospheric King's Hall.

"Through a pungent fog generated by Gallaher's Blues, Park Drive and Player's Navy Cut cigarettes, countless thousands of eyes peered towards the back of the arena, trying to catch a glimpse of Freddie Gilroy or John Caldwell," writes Flynn.

The late, great Caldwell - arguably the finest post-war Irish fighter - was a hero of the Falls Road but having boxed a great deal away from Belfast he did not hold the same support as Ardoyne man Gilroy. The intensity of the battle lived up to all the hyperbole. Indeed, Magowan penned that the opening round had reduced the crowd to "a state of gibbering uncontrolled hysteria".

Following a clash of heads Caldwell had to retire at the end of the ninth round.

Two years later he would win both belts, while Gilroy never fought again and a much sought after re-match simply fizzled out.

But the two men will always be remembered as Irish warriors and Flynn's telling of their story is well worth a read.

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