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Billy McKee and Carl Frampton - a tale of respect


Top team: Midland ABC coach Billy McKee with his British Empire medal and Carl Frampton with his IBF super-bantam title belt

Top team: Midland ABC coach Billy McKee with his British Empire medal and Carl Frampton with his IBF super-bantam title belt

Top team: Midland ABC coach Billy McKee with his British Empire medal and Carl Frampton with his IBF super-bantam title belt

You don't have to spend much time in the company of Carl Frampton and Billy McKee to see they are hewn from the same solid, grounded Tigers Bay granite.

Billy has spent 40 years coaching boxers and half that time has included keeping a watchful eye over Carl. The past month has been a special time for both as the Jackal's IBF World super-bantamweight title success was followed up by Billy being awarded a British Empire medal by the Queen for services to boxing.

Chatting over a pot of tea in the Moyola Cafe, just a stone's throw from the Midland Amateur Boxing Club in the Bay where the 27-year-old learned his trade, it is easy to see why the two men remain as close as ever. Respect and trust is unquestioned and Carl - putting his special talent to one side - is everything that former boxer and Distillery midfielder Billy expects from a Midland ABC man.

Little wonder that Billy's 76-year-old eyes light up at the thought of Carl one day playing a role - as the World champion suggests - in the development of future amateur stars in Midland.

Carl's discipline and work ethic sits as a benchmark now for every young boxer who walks through the doors of the Midland club where his dad, Craig, along with Billy and Cooper McClure spend countless hours coaching and acting as second parents as they build character as much as developing right and left hooks.

"If I came back here I would know my place because Cooper has been coaching here a long time and I respect him, but I would love to coach kids and maybe take a kid all the way to an Irish senior title," says Carl, and Billy immediately interjects with "that would be a dream... I would always like to think that he would come down to the club and maybe one of his sons!"

Billy, one of the most highly respected men in Irish amateur boxing, has been a mentor to many young men and admits that in today's world that is more important than ever before.

"You're a bit like a social worker because if a guy comes home from work and has his supper and then goes to the match, or whatever, if his son is coming down here five nights a week I'm seeing him more than he is - just like a schoolteacher sees your kids more than you do," says Billy.

"Coaches can have big influence and I am thankful that I've never had a boy who has boxed for me who has got into trouble - and that's a fact. I maybe get more of a kick out of the way Carl conducts himself than him even winning the world title. If he was a clampet I'd not be happy but he's not a clampet, he conducts himself well as does his wife and it's not easy because one minute you're an ordinary guy and then you're in a different league and he will probably go to a different sphere again because he's on the way up."

Billy and discipline have always gone hand-in-glove and maybe that is why there is a big drop-out of young men who find it hard to handle the commitment required to go all the way from novice to senior status, never mind the professional ranks.

"Any kid I've had who has been good has done another sport and they get taken away because the other sport is easier. When you go into the ring you're going to get hit, it's easy when you're on top but there comes a time when you get hit and it takes desire and discipline to keep going. Discipline is more important than boxing because if they don't have the discipline then they're not going anywhere."

Carl nods in agreement and reflects on his own amateur days when he was also a budding footballer.

"If you play football you train once or twice a week and play on Saturday so you still have plenty of time to go and hang around with your mates but in boxing, you're here all the time so you've no social life if you want to do it right, and the people who can't handle that leave. They just want to enjoy themselves more.

"That's one of the things I hated about football, I hated losing, I hated watching guys pulling out of tackles, not giving it everything. People used to hate me because I was always shouting at them because they were not putting the effort in."

While the majority of the Jackal's fans gaze at him in awe and can see only the golden path of professional success, Billy was there when the road was not just as smooth, such as when he was losing to those of, frankly, lesser ability in the amateur ranks - and, for both, the missed opportunities of more Irish and Ulster senior titles was painful.

"I remember when I was younger I never wanted Billy to find out if I was messing because I respected him and everyone in the gym respects each other," adds Carl.

"I remember after I had won the Irish seniors flyweight title the next year I went up a weight and a guy called Kevin Fennessy beat me and I went home and sat down and just thought 'how can that happen?'

"But I learned from it and the next year I was 10-0 up against him when they threw in the towel, when I had boxed the way I should. I lost fights I shouldn't have but Billy was always there for me."

Indeed, Billy could see almost from the moment he walked into the gym 20 years ago that he had real potential.

"He must have been about seven, he's not that big now so you can imagine how small he was, and he was sparring guys much bigger but it never worried him.

"It's easy to say it when he's a world champion now but you could see there's a lad that could make it if he does the right things."

Under the guidance of former World champion Barry McGuigan, Carl has reached the professional summit and become a Northern Ireland sporting great.

But, while the froth and bubble of fame is all around his head and heart will remain hard-wired to where it all began and as Billy says - with a nod of agreement from his protege -"in this club he's not World champion Carl Frampton, he's just Carl Frampton."

Belfast Telegraph