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Passing of Ulster boxing pioneer Cunningham will leave massive chasm on local scene

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Tributes: Harry Cunningham

Tributes: Harry Cunningham

Tributes: Harry Cunningham

Harry Cunningham was quite simply the embodiment of all that is good about amateur boxing and his passing has left a chasm within the sport across this island.

The full depth of Harry's legacy at the Saints club in Twinbrook will never be known. Hundreds of social media posts, emails and text messages have been sent to his sons Liam and Harry jnr, daughters Nicola, Marie, Tracey and Brenda and wife Geraldine.

It is fitting that Liam, a Commonwealth Games flyweight silver medallist and five-time Irish and Ulster senior champion, has taken up his father's mantle as the man driving the club forward. Younger brother Harry also lends a hand and both would love to see Saints ABC thriving as it did when they soared across the amateur boxing landscape.

Their dad, who died aged 75, blended wit with straight-talking steel that demanded discipline in the club and at home. You knew where you stood with Harry and he rose above the politics of amateur boxing which for long periods damaged the sport. His key roles within the Antrim Council, working alongside Sean Canavan, Billy McKee, Patsy McAllister and Paddy Barnes snr, allowed numerous boxers to enjoy international trips they could only have dreamed of.

Proud as he was of every Antrim boxer who achieved success, running the club was not just about medal winners but helping numerous kids within the Twinbrook Estate find a real purpose for life.

"When my dad first started in what was called the Twinbrook club there was a lot of anti-social behaviour in the area and one night a car came right into the club, went on fire and burned the club down. My dad and Patsy McCartan managed to get hold of a handball alley attached to the Saints Youth Club and out of that set up a new club. At the start they had no running water or heating but they made it work," said Liam.

"We eventually got a gas blow heater that helped us make weight! My dad always emphasised discipline and dedication and that's what my success was down to. When I was coming through we had a great bunch of lads - we were winning Antrim, Ulster and Irish titles every year. One of those guys, Charlie O'Halloran, has actually come back to help me out at the club. We want to get the club back to where it should be.

"My dad was just a great man and it was really special for him when he was in our corner when Harry and I won Ulster and then Irish senior titles on the same night. But he didn't just build us as boxers, he was our role model for how we should be as people - treating everyone with respect."

Harry jnr also had a great amateur career, winning a world junior silver medal in Argentina with his father in the corner while also bagging Ulster and Irish senior titles.

"I couldn't imagine having a better dad. Where we are from you can go down the wrong route or stick to the right path and growing up there were plenty of distractions and my dad kept us on the right path," said Harry.

"I remember how happy he was when we won the All-Irelands. He knew how hard it was for us to make light-fly and flyweight so the day after he would take us for a big steak to the same place and we actually went there recently to celebrate his 75th birthday.

"He was always in my corner from the moment I started boxing. He loved the kids and helping them develop and I've had many messages from lads saying how he was a father figure to them. That's nice to hear. He led Liam and I to have some great times as boxers, he was old school in terms of discipline and it worked.

"I did laugh not so long ago when he saw Liam and I having a bit of a laugh with the lads in the club and he just got up and walked out and then later let rip a few expletives because we weren't being tough enough with them!"

RIP Harry.

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