Ben McGarrigle ready to come full circle ahead of return to Commonwealths 20 years on

Ben McGarrigle went to the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur as Northern Ireland's heavyweight hope - 20 years on, the Strabane man returns to the competition as a referee. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

IN 1998 Ben McGarrigle was part of the Northern Ireland team gearing up for the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur – and 20 years on he will come full circle by returning to the Games as a referee.

The Strabane man sets off for the Gold Coast on March 30, where he will become only the third former boxing competitor to return to the Commonwealths as an official.

It has been quite a journey, one that started at St Mary’s boxing club in Strabane before work took him to Boston, where McGarrigle found himself sharing the same gym as future world champion Steve Collins and the ‘Rocky Ros Muc’ himself, Sean Mannion.

Commonwealth Games came and went but, after winning the 1995 Ulster senior title at heavyweight, all of a sudden sights shifted to Kuala Lumpur.

Now boxing out of the Omagh boys club, the ‘fighting fireman’ won the ’97 Ulster seniors and then defeated Holy Trinity’s Mark O’Hare in a box-off to secure his spot on the Northern Ireland team coached by Paul McMahon and the late Frank Gervin.

At 33, McGarrigle was only two years inside the official age limit of 35 (since extended to 40), and was determined to grab his opportunity with both hands.

But an unfortunate cut sustained at the end of the first round in his quarter-final against Welshman Kevin Evans brought a swift end to his Commonwealth dreams.

“I was ahead on points when I got the cut - it was just an accident where the inside of his glove sort of caught me above the eye. The referee called the doctor and he stopped it.

“Today, if I was refereeing and I’d looked at it I’d have said ‘box’ but in those days, the minute you were cut it was stopped. If I’d won that contest it would have guaranteed me at least a bronze medal.

“Kevin Evans ended up with a bronze, then got a silver medal at the 2002 Games in Manchester. I suppose I’ll never know how things might have turned out had I not got the cut.

“The funny thing is I actually remember doing an interview with The Irish News before going, saying about being involved in boxing for over 25 years and being injury-free – that was the first time ever in my life I was cut or injured.

“It was disappointing but what can you do? What happened, happened.”

Brian Magee was the only Irish boxer to return from Malaysia with a medal, landing middleweight bronze, but already McGarrigle was looking to the future.

He boxed at one more Ulster seniors, winning a third title, before hanging up the gloves and opening Mourne Golden Gloves in Strabane.

“I thought the coaching would be a bit handier, but in fact the workload was doubled,” he says with a smile.

Soon McGarrigle started judging and later qualified as a national referee in 2006, before eventually being fast-tracked from a one star to a three star ref by AIBA.

Since then he has officiated at the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea, the American Continental Championships in Honduras, a couple of World Series of Boxing fights, the European Youth Championships in Anapa, the World Youths in St Petersburg and, most significantly, last year’s World Elite Championships in Hamburg.

Yet, despite such a stellar roll call in a relatively short space of time, nothing compares to the prospect of a return visit to the Commonwealth Games.

He continued: “I would love to go to an Olympics, that’s my goal and I make no apologies for that.

“But if someone had said to me last year that you can either go to the World Elite Championships or the Commonwealth Games, I would have chosen the Commonwealths because it means that much to me.

“The fact I was there in the past, there’s that history and I just can’t wait to go. It’s very exciting.”

Jude Gallagher, who was lucky to escape injury after a car crash last Thursday night, advanced to last four of the national Boy 4 Championships less than 24 hours later


JUDE Gallagher advanced to the semi-final of the national Boy 4 Championship on Friday – but it could have been so different after he was involved in a car crash en route to Dublin the previous night.

Dad and coach John was driving into Castleblayney when a car pulled out in front of theirs, leading to a major collision.

Amazingly, John and Jude walked away injury free, bar a bit of stiffness, and the 16-year-old – from the Two Castles club in Newtownstewart - still did the business to see off Fiontan Loughlin of St Paul’s in the 50kg quarter-final.

“We were going to Dublin on Thursday night because there was an early morning weigh-in on Friday, driving along and this car just came along right in front of us and bang, in we went to him,” recalls John.

“The car hit him, hit the crash barrier and turned around facing back towards the north again.

He just came driving straight out in front of us.

“It was a bit of a shock. Jude was in the front seat sleeping so it was a rude awakening but he wasn’t too bad.

“We were very lucky – it’s a fast stretch of road that coming into Castleblayney and it could’ve been a lot worse. It was a big car we were in, it’s in bits, but only for that we could’ve been killed.”

Having out that smash behind him, Gallagher can look forward to this weekend’s semi-final, with club-mares Tiernan Mayse and Danny McHugh also in last four action.

Gallagher is currently building towards next month’s European Youth Championships in Italy (April 17-26) after being named in the 15-strong Ireland squad which also includes Holy Family middleweight Kane Tucker and Immaculata fly Caitlin Fryers.

All quarter-finalists at the Europeans qualify for the World Youth Championships, while gold medallists in Roseto book their spot at the Youth Olympic Games, which take place in Argentina in October.

Meanwhile, Conor Quinn jets off to Romania later this week as part of the Irish U22 squad bound for the European Championships (March 24-April 2).

The Clonard flyweight, who impressed in defeat to Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine in last year’s Ulster elite final, won the national U22 Championships in January.

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