The Eubanks have all the boxing gifts, but their behaviour has demeaned the sport

It’s a bit of a sporting special this week, as our man Frank focuses on sportstars of wildly contrasting levels of charm and popularity…with musings too on Ireland’s win over Wales, and Mack Hansen’s starring role…

I could never deny that sport has played a huge part in my life, both as a participant and as a supporter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a big passion for the big four (Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, and soccer), with more than a passing interest in golf, tennis and equestrian sports.

  When I was a young lad, boxing was absolutely huge – especially heavyweight boxing. I grew up on the extraordinary exploits of the likes of Sonny Liston, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Kenny Norton, George Foreman (of the George Foreman grill fame), and the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali. Back then, heavyweights were box office.

  During those years, even in England, decidedly limited fighters such as Billy Walker, Jack Bodell, Joe Bugner, and Henry Cooper (of Enry’s hammer fame) regularly packed out boxing arenas, earning huge sums of money for themselves and getting reputations that their ability barely deserved.

  Somewhere along the line, a bit like my fondness for certain types of food, my interest in boxing waned. This was more than likely mainly due to the many scandals that always seemed to be bubbling under the surface, like bout-fixing allegations and mafia involvement. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when we had Wee Barry (McGuigan) arrive on the scene, that my interest was somewhat revived.

  Who will ever forget the night he took the world featherweight title in 1985, defeating the previously unbeaten Eusebio Pedroza in Loftus Road football stadium in London? Mikeen Roarke’s has seen many a big crowd down through the years, but that night the place was literally packed to the rafters. Just as well that the health and safety inspectors were McGuigan supporters!

  Wee Barry single-handedly put boxing back on the map in Ireland. While this was mostly because of his ability, it also had much to do with the Clones man’s amazing relationship with his manager Barney Eastwood and the song ‘Thank you very much, Mr Eastwood’, a parody on Barry’s post-fight interviews, which became a big hit for Dermot Morgan. Sadly, McGuigan’s relationship with Eastwood was to deteriorate dramatically later on, and eventually ended up in the High Court.

  I lost interest in boxing again after Barry retired. However, some time later (still in the 1980s), Steve Collins came along and got us all going again. The ‘Celtic Warrior’ won the world super middleweight title on March 18th 1995, when, in a never-to-be-forgotten fight, he beat the eccentric and unbeaten English boxer Chris Eubank in Millstreet, Co. Cork. He repeated the dose a year later when he beat the Englishman again. Collins also twice defeated Nigel Benn, the other member of the threesome who fought each other a number of times in great fights during that wonderful era. He retired undefeated in 1997 as the most successful Irish boxer of recent times.

  However, for all of Collins’ great achievements, it was Eubank who left the biggest mark on the boxing world. To me, he was the most arrogant, obnoxious, insufferable person that ever was! He seemed to love to be hated, and his actions both inside and outside the ring would annoy even the most mild-mannered of people.

  Anyway, I had forgotten all about these lads and even about boxing itself until last weekend, when I went through the sports channels looking (in vain) for any station that might be showing the golf history-maker, Leona Maguire, as she became the first ever Irish lady to win a LPGA tournament. There wasn’t a sign of her anywhere, but in my search I came across a big boxing contest in Cardiff, featuring (of all people) Chris Eubank Jr and Welshman Liam Williams, a fight that everyone agreed was a big grudge match.

  They say the an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Eubank Jr certainly didn’t. Everything his father was, so was his son the other night – obnoxious, arrogant, insufferable, and condescending. Though he won convincingly, it was a most unpopular win. For the first time in my life (that I can recall), neither fighter acknowledged each other at the end of the fight, and it was obvious all through that Williams absolutely detested the young Eubank.

  Not since when his father was boxing have I ever been so against any boxer. My wife thought I’d lost my mind as I shouted at the telly, but (despite my promptings) in the end, Eubank won. True to form, he antagonised the fans with his actions afterwards. You would’ve loved if Williams knocked him out, but in truth, the Welshman (while brave) was outclassed, and never looked close to wiping the smile off the arrogant Eubank’s face.

  He is now on the radar to become a world champion, but whatever he does, it looks as if he too is more interested in being a figure of controversy, rather than someone the sporting public actually likes. It is a pity, because like his father, he’s actually a talented fighter.

Rachael and Leona are great sporting ambassadors

When it comes to popular and likeable sportspeople, it would be hard to top Ireland’s racing queen, Rachael Blackmore, who won the Irish Champion Hurdle in Leopardstown on Sunday.

  The unbeaten Honeysuckle defended his crown to win his 14th consecutive race, beating a small but talented field into submission. It says something for the popularity of both horse and jockey that they got such a huge reception from the big attendance even before they raced at all!

  Meanwhile, the reception when they entered the winners’ enclosure after the race would make the hair stand on your head!

  The contrast between the reception they got with all the cheers and clapping, and the boos and jeers for Eubank Jr (see main item) was amazing. Two winners – one loved for her talent, humility, and graciousness, while the other one is unpopular for all the reasons I’ve highlighted. I wonder if for all his posturing and arrogance, the boxer would secretly like to get the type of reception that Rachael (and Honeysuckle) got?

  The whole world is talking of Irish superstar sportswomen, and given the form and class of Katie Taylor, the aforementioned Leona Maguire, and many more, it is certainly a wonderful era for Irish sport. It’s a privilege to witness it. Those three in particular are at the very top of their respective sports and an absolute credit to our little island.

And finally…a pat on the back for Matt

Finally for this week, and with apologies to the woman who recently told me that she likes my articles, except for when I write about sports, I have to finish with a comment about the rugby and Ireland’s Six Nations victory over Wales.

  It was a win that, while expected, still had to be delivered, and one that was carried out with the minimum of fuss. However, what’s most on my mind is the wonderful performance by Connacht’s Mack Hansen in his first international, and the way he answered all those who criticised his selection – especially the rugby writer on the Daily Mail, Hugh Farrelly, who is constantly railing against the selection of players like CJ Stander, Bundee Aki, and Hansen himself on the Irish team.

  We all know that these players were not born in Ireland, but all have met the criteria laid down by the rugby chiefs. Indeed, Hansen, whose mother was born in Cork, should not be questioned at all about his Irish credentials. His arrival in Galway to play for Connacht has really enlivened the rugby world, not only in the west, but now also in the entire country.

  All other top rugby countries use players who weren’t born on their shores, with the All Blacks, England and Scotland among them. So in my opinion, there is little point in continually going on about players like Stander and Aki, both of whom have given great service to their adopted country. Instead, we should applaud players like Mack Hansen for his excellent performance on Saturday, and hope he continues to show such good form for province and country.

  If selected against the French this weekend, may he deliver another man of the match performance and help us get another win in a very difficult and competitive championship.