Tales of tears, tablets and the Dubs en route to Michael Conlan's New York fight night

In this March 8 1971 file photo Joe Frazier is directed to a corner by referee Arthur Marcante after Frazier knocked down Muhammad Ali during the 15th round of the title bout in Madison Square Garden in New York. Frazier won the bout over Ali by decision. Frazier the former heavyweight champion who handed Ali his first defeat yet had to live forever in his shadow died after a brief final fight with liver cancer. He was 67. The family issued a release confirming the boxer's death on Monday night November 7 2011. (AP Photo/File)
Andy Watters

“OKAY,” said the old man gently as she lingered near the door of the bus, making way for everyone else despite the cold.

“On you go. Look after yourself, say hello to your aunty for me and God bless you on your travels.”

She boarded last with tears in her eyes and walked up the aisle on the look-out for a quiet spot to sob and think of home before she jetted off to who knows where.

The only seats were near the back among a group of middle-aged men who were already (and we’re talking well south of 8 in the a.m. here) in good voice.

The banter flowed as they swapped tall tales of “quare lookers in their day” and former jollies which, it seemed, had become few and far between. Time takes its toll.

“I remember when we used to head aff with nothin’ only hair gel and condoms, even though we never used any of them,” said one follically challenged fella.

“Now you go away and it’s just tablets everywhere. I says to the wife before I left: ‘Jesus, don’t let me forget my tablets’.”

Ah, it would bring a tear to your eye.

But that’s enough of the ear-wigging.

All went smoothly for me through Dublin airport and its security and the only hurdle left on my way Stateside was a desk manned by a stony-faced US official.

As you may be aware, these customs guys are normally and naturally a diligent lot, and as any delay would scupper my travel connections – planes, trains, yellow taxis and Shanks’s pony – I was praying for a quick ‘Have a good day, sir’ in a slow US drawl to speed me on my way.

And lo and behold, somehow or other, I said the magic words and sailed through like a Glider Bus does in west Belfast these days, sucking diesel, and not a roadblock in sight.

Here’s a short summary...

Stony-faced guy: Where do you work?

Me: Erm, a newspaper.

Him: What’s your job?

Me: Reporter.

Him: Oh yeah, what do you report on?

Me: Everything including Gaelic football, Gaelic football, and then Gaelic football mostly.

And suddenly the guy’s face lit up.

Him: Oh yeah! I got to hold the Sam Maguire the other day!

Me (thinking): God bless the GAA.

Me (saying with absolute delight): Wha? Seriously? That’s brilliant.

Him: Yeah, the Dublin team came through here a couple of days ago and they had the cup with them. When you get an opportunity like that you don’t pass it up. Next I’m hoping to get my hands on the Liam MacCarthy.

Still him: Anyway, you’re all good, have a nice trip.

Me: Haha. Yeah. Thanks. Good luck with that. Up the Dubs!

I strode on delighted into the departure lounge and before too long I was boarding for Newark.

From there it was a dash to the train for Manhattan, out at Penn Station and then up through the maze of tunnels and corridors into the frosty fresh air at Madison Square Garden, right in the heart of New York, for Michael Conlan’s pre-fight conference.

The Belfast man was there, Vladimir Nikitin, his opponent on Saturday night was there, and so was I.

Me, at the Garden, the boxing Mecca where Ali met Joe Frazier in the ‘fight of the century’ and Joe Louis and so many ring legends have fought over so many years?

I never thought I’d see the day.


Madison Square Garden, right in the heart of Manhattan.

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