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Back in the day: The Irish News Dec 21 1997: Darren Corbett retains crown against southpaw frustrator Robert Norton

STILL CHAMP...Darren Corbett holds his son Darren Jnr after retaining his Commonwealth cruiserweight title at Maysfield leisure centre on Saturday night

OUT of jail.

Darren Corbett doesn’t need to watch a video re-run to realise how close next year’s planned European and World Championship bids were to double jeopardy on Saturday night.

Corbett found inspiration in desperation and went on a wild and wicked punching safari late on to deny southpaw frustrator Robert Norton.

The 25-year-old stayed champion of the Commonwealth cruiserweight division by a whisker, nicking a near to the knuckle half-point decision from Birmingham referee Terry O’Connor.

Corbett admitted he did not perform the way he’s capable of, and was annoyed with the spoiling tactics of Norton. “He was spoken to 58 times. You don’t win fights by holding, using the head the way he did, and hitting low,” he said.

Corbett, who could be fighting the Ukraine’s former EBU champion Alexander Gurov soon for the European Championship if the title becomes vacant, said it was another important learning experience.

“I didn’t box that well. I fought with a cracked nose, fought through the pain barrier, but I got to him in the last two rounds.

“Many people thought I took the decision by a couple of rounds.

“I think Jim Watt gave it to Norton by one round, but I don’t think you can do that if you take into account all the warnings Norton received during the fight.”

He suggested he will make a further defence of the Commonwealth title, will take whatever is on offer for Europe and a possible WBO title shot in the summer, while he feels a move to light-heavyweight is on the cards.

“I don’t think anyone will see me box like that again. I wasn’t happy with the performance, but you have those nights now and again.

“Had the referee called it a draw I would not have complained. I think the holding and all the rest counted against Norton as far as the referee was concerned,” he said.

“There is now talk of a possible vacant European title fight, maybe with Gurov, but that depends on what happens with Johnny Nelson.

I also believe I would have no trouble moving down to light-heavyweight, so we’ll see what happens.

“Norton was a great fighter, very tough, very awkward, and I knew he would be hard to deal with.

Everybody was saying I would knock this guy out, but that was wrong. It was a very difficult fight. I’m glad it’s behind me now, over and done with.”

Barry Hearn, his manager-promoter, says Corbett will box for a world title next June. A challenge for the European Championship may arrive sooner.

“That is the plan, so we will see what happens. Norton proved very hard to deal with. Southpaws are not suited to Corbett, I think.

“That said, Norton should have been thrown out for repeated holding, use of the head, and low punches. He was warned often enough.”

A late onslaught from the champion seemed to edge the verdict in the referee’s opinion, wild punching over the 11th and 12th rounds, several big rights finding Norton under fire on the ropes for O’Connor to award him the fight.

It was very, very close, extremely uncomfortable, and Norton was on the face of it unlucky not to at least earn a draw. Corbett hinted at as much.

Unbeaten in his previous 17 contests, the rangy Stourbridge southpaw agitated the champion throughout the first eight rounds.

Norton’s smart jab seemed to be surgically attached to Corbett’s face.

He scored heavily with it, keep out of the champion’s reach, picked off Corbett repeatedly as he tried to move in and corner his opponent.

It wasn’t until the last six minutes of mayhem at the Maysfield, with Corbett’s corner animated and screaming advice, that he began to pin Norton with several bursts of thudding, wild hooks.

A close, uneasy shave, Corbett was plain and simply lucky to get out of the contest with such a slender winning advantage.

Norton’s warnings for holding, low hits, and head use appear to have spoiled his challenge.

Perhaps his showboating didn’t win any favours with the referee either, yet that fairly accurate jab was so often in Corbett’s face, it is difficult to account for the half-point going against him.

He did box for the majority of the bout in retreat.

Corbett was the aggressor, though his punch-rate was much lower, his workrate inside not all it should have been.

Too often when he did get near to Norton, he had trouble unlocking himself from his opponents spoiling tactics, avoiding an irritating jab, while he seemed unable to let his own fists fly.

One of Norton’s coaches, Joby Clayton, remarked afterwards that his fighter failed to make a big enough impression for long enough.

He failed to sustain the good work of the first six rounds, and paid for it. 1970s prison classic,

Escape from Alcatraz, found its way onto the TV film schedule on the eve of the live Skysports scrap.

Corbett scripted his own tense, uncertain version, with the chase for the concussive power to nail Norton as he had former title-holder Chris Okoh.

Pressure, pursuit, big rights slammed in, left hooks also during rounds 11 and 12, crucial in trying to stem the points flow generated by Norton’s jab.

Norton had piled on the points, the rounds, during the first eight. Jim Watt, Sky’s co-commentator at ringside, had the challenger ahead by one and a half points entering the ninth.

Even the big last two failed to turn it in Watt’s view. Not enough time, not enough points to be had, is one scenario many felt, including myself, would decision it for Norton unless the kayo punch buckled the challenger.

That didn’t happen. I thought Norton had, despite all the claims on warnings, and whatever were issued by the referee, taken it.

A knockout, or at least a couple of knockdowns, from the 10th onwards seemed to be needed, to my mind, to erode Norton’s points advantage built.

The decision was debatable. Unconvincing, Corbett never had it so tough.

In fairness, he can thank his lucky stars.

As with old Clint and Alcatraz the night before, he made what looked an unlikely but successful escape on the night...

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LITTLE Tommy Waite stood tall and proud yesterday, a new Irish champion.

The Shankill Road man brought boxing glory back home, leaving critics punch drunk, following his Irish bantamweight title win over favourite Vince Feeney at the Maysfield Leisure Centre on Saturday evening.

He becomes the second fighter, Darren Corbett the first, from Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable to win an Irish crown, since the revival of the big fight night in Belfast last year.

In a blistering bout, Waite took the title by a mere half-point advantage.

Sligo Kid Feeney, a man with a wealth of experience was caught cold by the unpredictable odds of the ring. Waite, however, yesterday offered Feeney a re-match.

The new champion, a fruit and veg salesman, revealed he worked on the day of the fight, at his Shankill Road outlet. “I was up at 6.30am and worked to midday, I had to, it’s too close to Christmas,” he said.

“I had thought about what the press had suggested, that I was the underdog and wouldn’t win.

“That’s fine. The people in the press are doing their job and I have to do mine. The difference is I’m the one whose in the ring and I’m the one who knows exactly what I can do.

“I trained so hard for the fight and I had to work when I wasn’t in the gym.” With 1998 and New Year expectations in mind, Waite isn’t in a hurry.

“It feels great to be an Irish champion, I’m very proud. This is the perfect Christmas present.

“I want to defend the title in my next fight and I would be happy to see Vince Feeney in the same ring again.

“I know I surprised a few people but not myself. I would have no problem fighting Feeney in a re-match.

“My boxing has improved because I went back to my original style. I’m not rushing into British title talk, I’ll leave the plans for next year up to my coach.”

Waite’s coaching team, the compelling Gerry Storey and Gerry Storey junior, had masterminded another successful night for local boxers.

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MIDDLEWEIGHT Danny Ryan stunned fight fans with his first round demolition of Hemsworth’s Dave Radford. Having drawn with Radford earlier this year, Ryan was expected to forego another testing night-shift.

The Donegal Express though was in no mood to prolong his pay cheque after catching Radford with a terse left hook which floored the visitor early on.

A catalogue of unanswered punches allowed Ryan to complete the most impressive accomplishment on the bill. Debut boy Glen McClarnon enjoyed a points win over Swansea’s Mark Smith. Welterweight McClarnon dictated his contest, adjusting the tempo with considerable ease.

Flyweight Anthony Hanna (Birmingham), who earlier this year was involved in an epic brawl with Belfast’s Colin Moffett, failed to faze former amateur star Damaen Kelly.

Despite the irritation of free-flowing blood from cuts above both eyes, the stained Kelly remained a composed and convincing winner as boxing skills in abundance let the Belfast man record his third successive professional win. Hanna, with over 30 professional bout on record, is of Irish descent, and aims to fight for the Irish title with Kelly or Moffett in mind.

Powerhouse cruiserweight Cathal O’Grady recorded his fourth professional win inside the distance following his destruction of Dollgeau’s Tim Redman, in the second round.

All action O’Grady absorbed the best of Redman’s wrist action before forcing referee David Irvine to intervene, one minute and 21 seconds into round two.

In his second outing in the light-middleweight division, Neil Sinclair stopped Bedworth’s Chris Pollock in round three of a scheduled six rounder.

Pocket-sized flyweight Colin Moffett, in his return from a six-month rest, drew with journeyman Graham McGrath.

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HASTINGS CUP

MONAGHAN retained their 100 per cent record in this year’s Hastings Cup competition with a comfortable and thoroughly-deserved 5-10 to 2-8 victory over Down at Gavin Duffy Park, Monaghan.

Monaghan laid the foundations for this win with a brilliant first-half display that saw them score in four goals to leave Down with a mountain to climb in the second half.

Down were sluggish in the first half and a tight-marking Monaghan defence in which Pauric McKenna, Colm Flanagan and Liam O’Neill were outstanding afforded them few options.

Monaghan led by 1-3 to a point after 11 minutes. Down’s opening score came from Conor Daly in the third minute and such was Monaghan’s dominance that it was another 27 minutes before the Mournemen registered again just on the stroke of half time.

Monaghan: J Sullivan, C Flanagan, R Treacy, P McKenna, P Coyle, G McElearney, L O’Neill, C McShane, E Hoey, J McDaid (1-1), G Meekin (1-3), G McAleer (0-1), N Clerkin (1-0), K McKenna, D Swift (2-4)

Subs: P Hughes for G McElearney, K Tavey (0-1) for K McKenna, J McIlroy for R Treacy

Down: C McCartan, E O’Hagan, C Byrne, C Annett, P Matthews, P Shields, J Lavery, M McMurray, K Franklin, C Daly (0- 2), S Ward (0-4), G Cunningham (2-1), P Bradley, O Sloan, S Caulfield (0-1)

Subs: G Quinn for E O’Hagan, M Doran for P Bradley, L Quinn for C Byrne

Referee: Brian Crowe (Cavan)

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ANTRIM suffered another defeat in the competition when a depleted side went under to unbeaten Sligo, 0-10 to 1-13 at Corrigan Park, Belfast.

The Sligo winning margin would have been much greater but for three brilliant saves by Antrim keeper John Finucane in the second half which kept his side in the game.

But overall Sligo were the more compact and direct side accepting the chances which came their way. In full forward demonstrated his great finishing power.

Sean Davey was a top class midfielder.

However when Antrim switched Joe Quinn to this sector the Saffrons fared better.

Sligo sealed victory with points from Sean Davey, Philip Gallagher and Gerry McGowan for an impressive win.

Antrim: J Finucane; D McCann, T Convery, E McLernon, P McCallum, M Graham, E Doherty, D Niblock, M McMullan, E Wilson, P McCann (0-3), P McErlean, K Brady (0-3), J P Stitt, J Quinn (0-2)

Subs D Craig (0-2) for J P Stitt, G Scullion for E Wilson.

Sligo: C Gordon, T McGuinn, N Maguire, S O’Neill, B Giblin, V Cuff, K Morley (0-1), S Davey (0- 3), K Carty, J Coogan, D McGarrity, J Murphy (1-0), T Brennan (0-1), G McGowan (0- 7), D Laffey.

Subs P Gallagher (0-1) for B Giblin, B Murphy for J Coogan, A McHugh for T McGuinn.

Referee: H P McCusker (Down)

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WING back Adrian McClafferty made it a merry Christmas for Donegal’s U21s in a dour Hastings Cup tie at Ballyshannon yesterday, Donegal winning 0-11 to 1-6. The lively defender made a vital last-minute save which deprived excellent Westmeath corner back Fintan Murray of a certain goal and a shock midlands win.

McClafferty was on hand to hack the ball clear with keeper Colm Curran well beaten by Murray’s low hard shot. Donegal dominated the first half – their full-forward Brian McLaughlin proving an able targetman with Johnnie McLoone and Darren Gibson testing the Westmeath defence.

Donegal: C Curran, P McGrath, D Monaghan, E Reddon, A McClafferty, R Sweeney, R Sweeney, M Clerkin (0-1), R McCool, M Heggarty (0-1), R Monaghan, D Gibson (0-2), J McLoone (0-2), B McLaughlin (0-2), D McGinley (0-2).

Subs: J Boyle for D Monaghan; P O’Dowd for R McCool, P J Barr for J McLoone; K Winston (0-1) for McGinley.

Westmeath: C Mullan, P O’Brien, K Harding, F Murray, M Bannon, P Herity, M Murtagh, A Canning (0-1), O Kelly, B Lawlor, T Cleary (0-3), R Ennis, D Martin (0-1), J Casey (0-1), D Dolan.

Subs: K Scanlon (1-0) for Dolan.

Referee: Aidan Flynn (Leitrim)

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