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Barry McGuigan's story isn't over yet

By David Kelly

Just as every young exciting footballer from this part of the world is compared to George Best, every boxer will find a similar fate in regard to Barry McGuigan.

The former World champion strode the global stage in the 1980s under the guidance of shrewd manager Barney Eastwood and now he is plotting a similar course for his protege Carl Frampton.

This relatively new mission plays a small part in his engaging autobiography 'Barry McGuigan Cyclone: My Story' (£18.99) in which he takes us through his boxing career and reveals the deep pain of the loss of his dad, the suicide of brother Dermot, the love of wife Sandra and the stress of dealing with daughter Danika's leukemia.

It was, of course, his relationship with BJ Eastwood and his ring exploits which transfixed the sporting world - in the good times and the bad.

There are few details regarding their acrimonious split but significantly former WBA featherweight champion McGuigan does pay tribute to the role his former manager had in his amazing rise to superstar status.

It was a masterful job in promotion and ring execution by a fighter for whom the whole community got behind during the darkest of days in our heartbreaking history.

McGuigan recalled: "Barney and I clicked straightaway. I liked him: he was quite assertive but warm... Barney was interested in bringing professional boxing back to Northern Ireland in a big way. We are going to kick it off again, he said, we are going to really start it again and we will have it like it never was before.

"What I would say about Barney Eastwood is that when our relationship worked, it worked extremely well. He had a lot of strengths as a promoter and a manager.

"His organisational skills were brilliant... he knew the game, he knew boxing and was exceptionally good at building a team.

"One such example of his knowledge was in using his contacts to bring over the Panamanian and South American sparring partners for the big fights. That played an important part in my preparation, no doubt about it.

"At the beginning I got on very well with him. Initially we were very close. There's no doubt that despite everything that happened he is a remarkable character with incredible energy. And he's very intelligent too; he was very good at reading people.

"He also shared my vision of peace and harmony regarding the politics we were submerged in. So it was disappointing the way it ended but there's nothing to be gained by dwelling on that. I'd rather remember the good times when the partnership was successful."

The ultimate moment of joy came in June 1985 when McGuigan, watched by 20m viewers and 25,000 at Loftus Road, took the World title from Panamanian legend Eusebio Pedroza. Back in the dressing room the two men embraced, mission completed - they had conquered the world together.

Along the way there would be heartbreak, the death of Young Ali following defeat to the Clones Cyclone haunted him and it was highly poignant that in the moment of victory over Pedroza, McGuigan took time to remember the Nigerian.

"I dedicated the win to him, said that it hadn't been an ordinary fighter who beat him that night but a world champion."

The World title would be lost to Steve Cruz in the searing heat of the summer of 1986 in Las Vegas and he was never the same again. Defeat to Jim McDonnell in 1989 on a cut eye was the end.

"I'd had 35 professional fights and mentally I was tired of it. I'd sort ot fallen out of love with the sport."

The passion would quickly return from behind the microphone as a top analyst and now as a manager and promoter.

He also records his pride in the transformation of Northern Ireland.

"If somebody had told me in the 1980s that Gerry Adams would shake hands with Ian Paisley or Peter Robinson I would have said put that man in a white suit and lock him up in a padded cell."

How good it would be to see a McGuigan-Eastwood handshake to recall how they brought hope when it seemed our country was heading into the abyss.

Belfast Telegraph


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