Boxing

Seconds Out: Sacred Heart stalwart Eric McCullough a huge loss to Belfast boxing

Former Sacred Heart coach Eric McCullough, who passed away last week
Neil Loughran

BELFAST boxing said farewell to a cornerstone of the local fight scene yesterday when Sacred Heart stalwart Eric McCullough was laid to rest.

The 82-year-old, who passed away last Thursday, was heavily involved with the famous north Belfast club for three decades, working closely with another revered coach, Eamonn Maguire, as the Sacred Heart produced champion after champion.

Moreso than the medals and the silverware accumulated through the years, however, it was the impact made upon generations of young men for which Eric McCullough will be most fondly remembered.

His son, Eric jr, remembers the many hours his father put into helping build the Sacred Heart, and is rightly proud of the legacy left.

He said: “I wouldn’t have been involved with the boxing myself, but there would always have been people who would have stopped you in the town or wherever and said to me ‘I knew your dad through the boxing’.

“And those people would’ve been from both sides of the community – Oldpark, Ardoyne, the Shankill, Woodvale, east Belfast, they all spoke highly of him, and that was always nice to hear.

“When it came to boxing, differences were put to the side – it was all about the kids. He’d have been at the club two, three nights a week, away most weekends doing boxing exhibitions in different clubs.

“Even at weekends, if there was any boxing on he’d have watched it or stuck on a video tape – it was a big, big part of his life.”

Colm Magill learnt his trade as a young boxer at Sacred Heart before going on to become a coach at the club alongside Eric McCullough.

And he remembers a man who “would’ve been over backwards to help anybody”.

“When I became a senior boxer, Eric would’ve come out an trained with us - if there was a 10 mile run or whatever, he would’ve been out on the roads with us and come back in, fresh as a daisy.

“He didn’t take any oul rubbish but at the same time he would’ve given the younger kids the benefit of the doubt because he wanted to have them off the streets. That was important to him.

“I went on to coach with Eric, and he was there through thick and thin. Unfortunately the club closed its doors but work is going on now to get it back open again, which is great to see.

“Eric was a gentleman, he would’ve bent over backwards to help anyone in the club. If any of the kids were falling behind, he’d have tried to bring them on.

“Eric was a great character. It’s hard to believe he has passed away.”

Colm Magill’s nephew, Eamonn, is at the forefront of plans to bring the Sacred Heart boxing club back into operation, with the aim to open its doors next year following a significant refurbishment project.

Eamonn is also a professional referee whose first experiences in boxing were under the tutelage of Eric and Eamonn Maguire, and he has fond memories of his former mentor.

“Eric was my coach from the age of 12 to 15.

“He took no nonsense in or out of the gym. If he heard you were misbehaving outside the gym he would've got you on the Monday night and asked you what were you up to because he’d heard a few things.

“He kept us young lads on the straight and narrow and I honestly believe that, had I not joined Sacred Heart boxing club, I wouldn't have been interested in the sport and ended up back in the ring 25 years later as a referee.

“He'll always be remembered for what he did and how he helped us as young boxers. Thank you Eric.”

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Young flyweight Donagh Keary is part of the 25-strong Irish team preparing for the European junior championships in Romania, which get under way on Friday. Picture by Mark Marlow

KEARY HOPING TO CONTINUE HOT STREAK AT EUROS

THE Irish team preparing for the European junior championships touch down in Romania tomorrow – and exciting young flyweight Donagh Keary will hope to continue his recent hot streak between the ropes.

Castlewellan teenager Keary is part of a 25-strong Irish team headed for Galati, which includes fellow Ulster fighters Dylan Eagleson (St Paul’s) and Martin McCullough (Gleann), with the action getting under way on Friday.

The 15-year-old was hugely impressive en route to landing the national cadet title in Dublin at the end of March, and brought that form into the County Antrim boy 4-7 championships earlier this month.

Keary joined Rathfriland boxing club last September, having previously been with East Down in Crossgar, and coach Bobby Lavery admits he was already aware of his potential.

He said: “Donagh came to us from East Down so, rather than taking any plaudits ourselves, the lad was a ready-made champion.

“I knew him, I had watched him box. You get to know the lads who are about and I knew he had a lot of potential. He’s a naturally fit lad and after a couple of weeks training I had him sparring, tough spars, to find out what his weaknesses were and what his strengths were.

“Once we found those out we worked away on both. But he fitted in straight away, and as soon as he won the cadets, the first man I rang was James Reynolds from East Down.

“You have to recognise the club that he came from.”

This will be Keary’s first major step into the international arena, and he will be coming up against Europe’s finest in Galati.

Lavery believes his charge is ready for the step up, and has seen constant improvement since Keary first walked through the doors.

“He has a great variation of punches - that’s where I have seen him come on a lot,” added Lavery, whose sons Ryan and Rory box out of the Holy Family club in Belfast.

“He’s really varying his shots, and starting to box like a European boxer. This competition will be a test for the whole Irish team.

“But, with every contest, Donagh is improving. Last month he beat [British number one] Cameron Lavery, so he knows what he’s capable of.

“This is a great opportunity, but it’s a new experience for him so you can’t predict how he’s going to do.

“You just have to keep your feet on the ground and take it one contest at a time, which he will do because he’s a very focused lad."

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