Boxing

'No matter when Paul fought, it was always one of the fights of the night': Harry Hawkins pays fond tribute to Paul Conlon

Paul Conlon (front right) pictured with his Ulster team-mates and officials Paddy Canning, Charlie Nash and Harry Hawkins (back right) before the squad faced Austria

HARRY Hawkins can still remember the head popping around the door as if it were yesterday.

“When are those Ulster seniors?”

“Two weeks…”

“Stick me down, I’ll be in on Monday night.”

Paul Conlon was never one for 12-week training programmes. With a lust for life and a busy barber’s shop to run he had other, more pressing concerns away from boxing. But he loved to fight – boy did he love to fight.

And dropping by Holy Trinity to signal his intent late in the day was nothing unusual for the patrons of the Turf Lodge club.

“That was Paul all over,” says Hawkins.

“Mickey would’ve said to me ‘sure he’s not training’ and you just had to say ‘don’t worry about it, he’s fighting’. Paul was fearless, he loved to fight.”

Ask anybody who was ever in attendance when Paul Conlon stepped between the ropes and the likelihood is they’ll recall a bruising, quite possibly bloody, encounter. He guaranteed drama and entertainment.

And stories of some of those battles have been doing the rounds in recent days, weeks and months, ever since Paul entered the River Lagan on February 28 before his body was eventually recovered last Thursday after a nine-week search.

It has been a painstaking time for the Conlon family as well as everybody who knew him – and Harry Hawkins knew him better than most.

From long drives down to Dublin for Irish youth championships in the early days to the crowning night of his career at the Ulster Hall, Hawkins was there with Conlon every step of the way.

And amid the bitter sadness at his untimely passing, there is still a smile when fondly recalling memories of their journey together.

“Paul was a great character. He was a very dear friend of mine, we stayed very close even after he finished boxing,” said the Holy Trinity coach.

“No matter when Paul fought, it was always one of the fights of the night, if not the fight of the night. It was blood and guts with Paul, he just loved fighting. You could’ve had some tactics in place and Paul was slick enough in some ways but, once the bell went, he would go out there and try and hit you as hard as he could.

“That’s just the way he was. Win or lose, he always shook hands, he was always happy enough. He just enjoyed it.”

A couple of weeks before the Ulster seniors of 1997, it was the same old story.

“When are they? Stick me down…”

After advancing to the final, Conlon would face Adrian Patterson in the lightweight decider.

Patterson, boxing out of the St Patrick’s club in Newry, was a class act. A slick southpaw, he had beaten Conlon’s brother Jim in the 57kg final 12 months previous, and in between times had picked up a silver medal at the Commonwealth championships in South Africa.

He was the betting favourite and, in the early stages of the fight, Patterson justified that billing as he boxed and moved to good effect. But, carrying almost freakish one-punch power in his right hand, Paul Conlon could never be ruled out.

His club-mates knew this too, with Holy Trinity’s former heavyweight champion Kieran Reilly heard guldering from the balcony between the third and fourth rounds: “F**king knock him out Paul!”

He duly obliged, stopping Patterson in the fourth.

“Paul was wiry, but by God he could hit,” recalls Hawkins.

“Patterson was a class wee mover and he was moving about, trying to stay out of trouble, and his corner were shouting ‘stay away, stay away’. But I’d always have been encouraging Paul to keep going forward, and that’s what he loved.

“When he came back at the end of the third I said ‘you’re getting to him, you’re getting to him’ and he just said ‘I know’. The blood was everywhere from him but he couldn’t wait for the bell to go, and out he went.

“That was a great win, we beat a real good one that night. Working with Paul was a treat for me because I knew him so well, and it wasn’t about saying ‘let’s turn on the left hook and try and counter’ or any of that, it was ‘keep going with the one-twos down the middle, you’ll get him’.

“And more often than not he did.”

Not long after, Conlon travelled to Austria with an Ulster team coached by Hawkins and Derry great Charlie Nash. The fight card was to be televised, and Hawkins found his charge pacing the floorboards of the hotel the night before when the rest of the team were safely tucked up in bed.

“Paul being Paul, he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t settle.

“The rest of the boys were sleeping but he was wandering about the hotel and I knew how Paul worked, so I took him out for a walk down the street and actually me and him went in and had a beer.

“I had him fired up for the fight then the next day, telling him he was on TV and he had to go out and look good, and of course he stopped the guy in two rounds.

“I’d have been round to the barbers after he finished up, and he had the programmes of those Ulster championships on the wall. Even any time there was a club show in Fruithill bowling club, he’d have said ‘here Harry, get me a match, I’ll fight’.

“That was Paul. He was just a great character and he’ll be sadly missed.”

Paul Conlon’s funeral takes place at Roselawn cemetery tomorrow afternoon, with the service at 1.30pm.

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Colm Murphy with opponent Shakell Shamar Daly after their fight of the night at the Europa Hotel on Friday. Also pictured is Dr Sean Donnelly. Picture by Mark Marlow

MURPHY STEALS THE SHOW IN EUROPA BARNSTORMER

COMMONWEALTH Youth Games bronze medallist Colm Murphy may have taken the spoils in a rip-roaring fight of the night, but it wasn’t enough to stop County Antrim slipping to defeat against their American opponents last Friday.

The Irish contingent were out for revenge after being edged out in Washington DC last month but it wasn’t to be as the Americans landed a 7-5 win after a fantastic night of boxing at Europa Hotel as part of the Belfast Beltway Project.

And Murphy’s bantamweight showdown with the stylish Shakell Shamar Daly stole the show.

The slick Daly looked the part at times, boxing beautifully on the outside, but in typical fashion Murphy just get coming, the St George’s man wearing his opponent down to take an impressive split decision victory.

Young Chad Magill, from the Glengormley club, also looked the part as he got the better of Cuttino Oliver, while Ormeau Road’s Ali Ahmed had his hand raised against the more experienced Edwin Ivan Ramirez Angel to put another win on the board for the County Antrim team.

At 70kg, North Down’s Lex Weston beat Jack Demmery to claim the County Antrim team’s final win of the night.

Emerald’s Paul McKernan gave it everything in the first fight of the night against Donte Damone Bailey on Friday, but just came up short against the taller American. Picture by Matt Bohill

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COUNTY DERRY BOARD TO HOST AWARDS NIGHT

THE County Derry board will celebrate its annual presentation and awards night with a showdown against an Armagh/Down select on Friday.

There will be fights from schoolboy right up to senior level on what promises to be a cracking night at the Maldron Hotel in Derry – especially if last year is anything to go by.

On that occasion the fight night, which was held in Lurgan, finished in a draw between County Derry and Armagh/Down, and it is likely to be equally competitive this time around.

Indeed, County Derry have already boxed Antrim, Derry and Tyrone/Fermanagh this, going undefeated thus far.

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