Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Boxing: Rinty a knock-out act who always had Irish eyes smiling

Down Memory Lane

Those exclusive stories so beloved by the sports journalists invariably result from being in the right place at the right time - the lucky break - and I've had my share of them.

Fortune smiled on me one lunchtime when I met Frank McAloran, noted manager of Rinty Monaghan, world, European and Empire flyweight champion.

" It is all over - I've thrown in the lot," he said.

Baffled, I asked him what he was talking about. He explained he was on his way home from visiting Jack Woodhouse, BBBC area secretary, after relinquishing all Monaghan titles.

"If he can't breathe he can't fight," he said.

I returned immediately to this office, informed the late John Caughey (the timekeeper), then boxing's correspondent, who didn't stand fools.

"Nonsense" he harassed. I persuaded him it was true and within minutes the story was running in the Telegraph later editions. Boxing was flabbergasted as the decision meant huge purse losses, even if he had only stepped into a ring.

There had been whispers that Rinty, whom I had watched knock out Northern Ireland featherweight champion Bunty Doran in four rounds at the Ulster Hall in November 1945 - his first step on the stairway to global stardom - had chest problems.

He tired during fights, his breathing was laboured.

This climaxed at the King's Hall on September 30, 1949 when he made his exit in a somewhat forgettable contest with London's Terry Allen which ended in a 15-round draw which meant he retained the titles.

This pleased local fight fans but not the Allen camp who vowed never to fight again in Belfast.

Although there were prospects of another title defence against Allen, Rinty, aged 30, never fought again, retiring with a record of 66 contests, 51 wins, six draws and nine defeats.

Rinty, given the name after the film star dog Rin Tin Tin, lived in Docklands where I spent several hours in the jubilation and euphoria after he defeated Scotland's Jackie Paterson in March 1948.

He was a colourful character, a cabaret act who after fights would sing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "Popeye The Sailor Man".

How the 12,000 patriotic fans in the King's Hall loved it.

He worked as a taxi man, a lorry driver and a petrol pump attendant at the old Shamrock Service Station in the heart of the city.

One day there was a rumour, carried on a local radio station, he had died. I asked a reporter to check it out - and there was the bold Rinty blowing up tyres, pumping gasoline into vehicles.

He sent this message back with the reporter: "Tell Malcolm when that happens I'll give him advance warning so he can have the first lift at the funeral!"

And on another occasion, when he won the Hall of Fame at the prestigious annual Texaco Sports Star of the Year Awards in Dublin he was asked to reply on behalf of the guests. Many wondered if he could cope; he did it brilliantly and, of course, at their request provided the Popeye rendition. He was a knockout.

Rinty died on March 3, 1984 aged 63, when thousands turned out to pay their final tribute at St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street.

Boxing and Northern Ireland sport had lost, as one mourner put it, "a small man but one who made up in heart for what he lacked in height".