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Boxers say thank you very much, Mr Eastwood

Boxers from many different generations united yesterday to pay a warm tribute to boxing legend Barney Eastwood.

The occasion in the plush surrounds of the Europa Hotel was the launch of the BJ Eastwood Story by Denis O’Hara.

There was also a strong GAA flavour with Eastwood’s lifelong friends John Joe O’Hagan and Patsy Forbes at the top table with Frank and Brian McGuigan and Owen Mulligan close by.

Current European champions Brian Magee and Paul McCloskey represented the current generation of Irish boxing while a special ovation was reserved for two revered old timers, Peter Sharpe and Henry Turkington.

And there among the not-so-old timers were Dave Boy McAuley, Hugh Russell and Roy Webb with no tell-tale signs of years spent in the hardest and cruellest sport of all.

Eastwood, looking totally relaxed among friends, talked at length of his time in the sport — good and bad times alike — and at his joy at how boxing, during the many years of the Troubles, was a great unifying force.

And he also revealed what attracted him to boxing in the first place when he was still a young boy growing up in Cookstown.

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“The American Army was stationed in Cookstown in the 40s,” he said.

“I was only a child at the time and I used to run messages for them.

“They always had their own boxing tournaments and they would always organise a special one for the schoolchildren and that was my first involvement.

“I always had a love for boxing and had there been a proper gym in Cookstown at the time I would have combined the boxing and the football.”

Boxing now has changed so much that it’s hard to imagine that in the McGuigan era the Eastwood gym in Castle Street was home to no fewer than six world champions at a variety of weights. This just didn’t come about by chance, as Eastwood explained: “There was no expense spared.

“We brought in top quality coaches and trainers from New York and Panama.

“But the most important thing of all in boxing is matching your man with someone that he’ll have the edge on.”

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