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Legend McNally 'put Irish boxing on the map': Gerry Storey

John McNally received a hero's welcome upon his return to Belfast after landing a silver medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki
John McNally received a hero's welcome upon his return to Belfast after landing a silver medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki John McNally received a hero's welcome upon his return to Belfast after landing a silver medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki

OLYMPIC hero John McNally “put Irish boxing on the map” when he returned from Helsinki with a silver medal in 1952, according to renowned trainer Gerry Storey.

West Belfast man McNally - the first Irish boxer to win an Olympic medal – died yesterday at the age 89.

Just 19 at the time, McNally won three fights to secure his place in the bantamweight final, where he was controversially defeated by Finnish home favourite Pennti Hamalainen.

Holy Family coach Storey was 15 when McNally earned his podium place, and remembers the buzz around his Olympic achievement.

Medals followed for John Caldwell, Freddie Gilroy, Fred Tiedt and Tony Byrne at the next Games in Melbourne, but Storey insists it was McNally who “kicked down the door”.

“John started the ball rolling, he was the guy who put Irish boxing on the map – and he gave an example for the other Irish boxers to follow.

“People might not appreciate just how hard it was to go away and win an Olympic medal in those days. Factor in too not knowing anything about your opponents. You were going completely into the unknown, figuring it out on your feet. To me, that makes his achievement all the more impressive.

“And as for the final, let’s just say if it had been in Ireland, he would’ve got the gold.”

Storey recalls going to the Ulster Hall to watch John McNally in action, and says he has only fond memories of the boxer and the man.

“John would’ve been a big favourite in the Ulster Hall - a very classy boxer, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

“Away from boxing, he was a likeable guy, a quiet, humble sort of a fella. It’s always sad when you lose somebody who made such a massive contribution, but John McNally will never be forgotten.”