No, thank you Barry McGuigan . . . for bringing us together as one
One of the big chart hits of the time was ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ by Bonnie Tyler. And Northern Ireland was doing just that.
1984 ended with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher still smarting over the murderous IRA bomb attack on the Tory party conference in Brighton, and 1985 would end with the divisive and controversial Anglo-Irish Agreement.
In between came Barry, and Loftus Road, and Pedroza, and Harry Carpenter’s memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons commentary, and thank you very much Mr Eastwood.
And thank you, Mr McGuigan. Boy, did you tick all the boxes at the right time.
He was a Catholic but he was married to Sandra, a Protestant. So far, so good.
He was a southerner as well, but does Monaghan count? We would happily blur the borders for this nine-county Ulsterman. In any case, he had taken out British citizenship.
And wee Barry was so polite, too. He thanked his manager, Barney Eastwood, for handling his career.
(It would all turn sour later, but no mind).
He even thanked TV crews “for filming me”, completely missing the irony that it was him doing them the favour.
He never spoke badly of his opponents, before or after he’d beaten them up.
But best of all, he had character and charisma.
What he didn’t have was the WBA world featherweight title.
And, much as we loved the little fellow, there seemed little chance he’d get his mitts on it.
The Panamanian Eusebio had held that title, seemingly since the dawn of time. There was a reason for that — he was a sensational fighter.
Fuelled more by hope than genuine expectation, we were all behind Barry — the Prods and the Taigs, the boxing aficionados, the excited blow-ins.
Thousands of us made it to London for that electric evening, hundreds of thousands more sat glued to their television screens.
And, when Finnbarr Patrick McGuigan’s mission impossible had been achieved amid incredible scenes, suddenly we all had something in |common. We had the ‘Clones Cyclone’ as our hero and he had helped exorcise some of our demons, as well as one or two of his own.
That year, 1985, Belfast city centre hosted two mass gatherings — one to protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the other to welcome wee Barry ‘home’.