Boxing

Barney 'BJ' Eastwood was a 'proud Cookstown man and a massive Tyrone fan'

Tyrone and Cookstown star Owen Mulligan presents Barney Eastwood with a pair of his boots at the Cookstown Fr Rocks Gala night and were bought for a staggering £32,000 by Barney. Picture Michael Cullen
Andy Watters

“I always thought he was the Eric Cantona of Tyrone”

BJ Eastwood on Owen Mulligan

“I’m a Liverpool fan but we had good banter over that. I suppose you could be compared to worse people”

Owen Mulligan on being compared to Man United legend Cantona

IN THE 1940s, Barney Eastwood played in the Cookstown street leagues with Owen Mulligan’s grandfather Eugene and the skills he honed in those games saw him progress to become the spearhead of the Tyrone forward line that won the 1948 All-Ireland minor title.

Playing at left-half forward, Eastwood scored 2-3 in the Ulster final against Monaghan and followed that up with four points in the All-Ireland final against Dublin at Croke Park. Despite going on to fame in boxing and fortune in bookmaking BJ, who passed away on Monday, remained a Cookstown man all his days.

“It was sad to hear the news, it’s sad for the town,” said three-time All-Ireland winner Mulligan.

“He was always a proud Cookstown man and a massive Tyrone fan. He always looked after the Cookstown boys and even though he made it big in the boxing world, he was still a Cookstown man at heart and such a gentleman.

“When we won the 2003 and 2005 All-Irelands he invited a few of us up to his house – there was myself, Frank McGuigan, Frank McGuigan senior, Brian McGuigan, Patrick Burns and Jim Curran.

“His knowledge of Tyrone football was exceptional – we were interested in hearing his stories and he was equally interested in hearing ours. He invited me to his book launch (Denis O’Hara’s ‘Hooked on the jab’) and I invited him to open Mulligan’s Bar in Cookstown eight years ago.”

‘Mugsy’ donated the boots he had worn when he scored that famous goal (two handpass dummies and a scorching right foot, top corner finish) against Dublin for auction in a fundraiser for the Cookstown Fr Rocks club in 2007. Eastwood bought them for £32,000.

The Tyrone All-Ireland minor championship-winning team of 1948, with BJ Eastwood pictured front left

“It was massive for the club, absolutely massive,” said Mulligan.

“Tyrone were playing that night and me and Raymond Mulgrew came in late. The club made a lot of money and the boots were the main attraction but I couldn’t believe they got past a couple of thousand. It just went higher and higher and higher and I was just glad Barney was there because he was a massive presence.

“We wanted to do a lot of work for the club because it was run-down, the facilities were run-down and we wanted to do it up and make it a good venue for youth to come because it wasn’t at that time.

“You walk into Fr Rock’s Park and see the catch-nets, the new goalposts, the new pavilion and the new fencing. Every penny of that £32,000 went into that.”

“It broke my heart. When they made BJ Eastwood, they broke the mould. There’ll never be another one like him again, never”

Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley when he heard the news that Barney Eastwood had passed away

HE was a lad from Larne hoping to make a few quid and winning a world title was the last thing on was the last thing on Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley’s mind when he first walked into Eastwood’s gym almost 40 years ago.

He’d been a pro for about six months when Eastwood took “a big, fat chance” on him. The great man saw something in McAuley that no-one else did.

“I didn’t show any promise,” recalls Dave Boy.

“He wouldn’t have been saying: ‘Oh this guy is going to be world champion’. He took a big fat chance on me and it paid off. It paid off for him and it paid off for me.

“He could see things other people couldn’t see. He had an insight, he could see things a lot quicker than everybody else and he could get the job done before anybody else.

“That’s why he became number one it and so successful.”

Ready to rumble From left: BJ Eastwood, Eddie Shaw and Bernardo Checa get Dave Boy McAuley in shape

By 1988, McAuley had won the British flyweight title but had lost two world title challenges against Fidel Bassa. The perceptive Eastwood stepped in and gave him the final shove he needed.

Speaking to The Irish News just a few weeks before he passed away on Monday, Tyrone-born Eastwood explained: “I was always very friendly with Dave Boy. He didn’t give a damn about fighting anybody.

“I could see something in him if we could get it out of him. Hilario Zapata (former WBA flyweight champion) had got into some sort of trouble and he was out of boxing and had his licence suspended.

“Bernardo Checa (coach) told me: ‘Zapata is doing nothing and he’s on the straight and narrow now’ and I said: ‘Would he come in for a spell’. He asked him and he came in and worked with McAuley for quite a few months.

“He knew all the tricks. He was a very skilful fighter, very cute… He could spot big faults, two or three serious faults in McAuley. McAuley liked him and they worked together and Zapata showed him so much in those few months and all of a sudden I could see that he had taken the step, he was a new man.

“Whatever had been holding him back, he just decided: ‘I’ll go for it’. It was marvellous the way he was able to do that.”

Just over a year after his second loss to Bassa, McAuley dethroned Duke McKenzie to win the IBF title and he went on to defend the belt five times in a series of unforgettable see-saw encounters.

“Some people called him ‘The boss’, some called him Mr Eastwood, I called him BJ,” Dave Boy explains.

“He was a down-to-earth guy and he was one of the best people you could have encountered. If he was on your side, if he was with you, you wouldn’t make many mistakes.

“He brought in the best sparring partners in the world, the best equipment and the best trainers in the world, so you had the best of everything and you did nothing but learn. You learned so much from watching the other guys, how they trained and how they worked, so it was a big, big education in the Eastwood stable.

“That’s why BJ had such a successful gym. He wasn’t afraid to spend money but when he did spend it he didn’t take any money off anybody, he didn’t take any money off me right the whole way through my career, not one brass cent.

“He was very generous and if he was on your side he would go to the ends of the earth for you. Him and I got on very well and we because good friends outside of boxing.

“He was a fantastic man – and I’m not saying it because he has passed away - there’s a lot of fighters from Ireland and around the world who owe him a lot of gratitude because, if it hadn’t been for him, there’s quite a few guys who were world champions who wouldn’t have been world champions with anybody else.

“Seven world champions came out of that gym and what he didn’t know about boxing in theory you could have put on the back of a stamp. And what he couldn’t do in practice, he brought in the best guys in the world to do that for him. We had the best mind working for us and the best practical guys training us. The man was just remarkable.”

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