ONE particular black and white photograph takes pride of place in Charlie Nash’s ‘blood, sweat and tears’ room at his Baronscourt home, documenting his glittering boxing career.
Nex Sunday marks the 35th anniversary of his European lightweight title victory over Andre Holyk in a packed Templemore Sports Complex on June 29th, 1979 and Charlie took time to dig out some of his most prized possessions.
One old picture, taken in the run up to that historic sporting occasion, brought back floods of memories for the Creggan man as he looked back on the last professional boxing event to be held in the city.
Five of Charlie’s sparring partners gather around him to pose for a ‘Derry Journal’ photograph ahead of the Holyk fight, having helped put him through his paces during a gruelling training camp at St Mary’s Boys’ Club in Creggan.
Damien McDermott, Mickey Duddy, Terence Donnelly, Liam Owens and Paddy Ferguson had all done their bit to help hone Charlie’s skills while his trainers Tommy Donnelly and John Daly looked after the ‘pad work.’
“Without them I wouldn’t have achieved what I did,” said Charlie of his ‘sparring partners’ and coaches as he took a walk down memory lane this week.
“I sometimes would forget things that happened yesterday and the day before but things back then I can still remember perfectly. With that team around me there was no way I was going to lose that fight.
“The same team were with me when I won the British title and that was 16 months earlier. They were my sparring partners at the club and I would spar with them two rounds each, one after the other in St Mary’s Boys Club in Fanad Drive.
“I probably wasn’t the best mentally but when it came to training, there was no stone left unturned,” he added.
“I would be running in the morning, then down at Lisfannon Beach, I was running again the afternoon and at night I was sparring.
When it came to fitness I made sure I wasn’t going to fall short. They were 15 round fights at that stage.
“Damien McDermott would do two rounds, Terence Donnelly would do two rounds, Mickey Duddy would do two rounds, Paddy Ferguson would do two rounds and Liam Owens would do two rounds, one after the other.
““I was 5ft 8’’ and to make lightweight and to be strong at the weight was hard work. Without the boys, without my sparring partners and their different styles of boxing I couldn’t have done it.
“In those days you didn’t get the opportunity to study the guys you were boxing and see what their style was. You just met them on the night and had to decide what way you were going to box.
“So the preparation with my sparring partners was crucial.”
That was 35 years ago and while some have taken different paths, the majority of those ‘training partnerships’ have stayed together.
Charlie, as the reigning European champion, moved from St Mary’s in August 1979 and followed his trainer Tommy Donnelly to set up in Andy McClea’s Gym in Laurence Hill before eventually finding his home in the old ‘Sparta Hut’ at Brooke Park some years later.
That initial move marked the end of his association with some of his training partners but those friendships were re-ignited and remain to this day.
In fact, Charlie - now President of Ring Amateur Boxing Club, still presides over training sessions alongside Mickey Duddy, Damien McDermott and current club treasurer, Paddy Ferguson.
Tommy Donnelly, now aged 77, retired just last year while 88-year-old John Daly is still involved with the club.
“Damien McDermott is still at the club with his grandson and he’s actually one of our trainers as well. So he’s a trainer. Mickey Duddy is a coach at the club, Terence Donnelly is more into his triathlons and running marathons nowadays and isn’t involved in boxing any longer.
“Damien was an Irish champion and Mickey Duddy and Paddy Ferguson were also champions. Liam Owens was a good boxer and went off to join the Irish army.
“Patsy Ferguson is still involved in the club as treasurer. John Daly was a treasurer up until last year. So most of us are still together and without them the club would fold.
“John Daly is 88 years of age but he’s still up in the club. I don’t know where he gets the energy from. Tommy only retired last year after 52 years of boxing.
“We had a good friendship and every night you were going in to fight each other,” he laughed.
“We even joke about it now. We be up in the club, myself, Mickey and Damien and we’re in watching the boys sparring and telling them to ‘take it easy.’
“I’d be telling the boys to ‘ease up’ and Mickey Duddy will be turning and saying to be ‘you’re some craic, you used to beat the daylights out of me’. You always have a laugh which keeps you going.”
And the future looks bright for the club, as Ring ABC look forward to a new home in a refurbished Brooke Park in the next couple of years with talented, young coaches at the helm.
“We’ve got Roy Nash as a coach and his son Calum who is an Irish and Ulster champion.
“Sean McAnee is a young trainer and we hope these guys stay at the club and sustain it which they probably will.
“It’s exciting times for the club. I’m getting weary and tired now. I still go up to the club but I wouldn’t go up if I wasn’t able to wear the pads and work with boys because that’s been my life for 32 or 33 years.
“So the best days are ahead of us not behind us!”
Looking back at his triumph over Holyk in June ‘79, Charlie recalls an unbelievable occasion.
“The fact Jack Solomons put it on in Derry I couldn’t believe it,” said Charlie. “The support I got from the people of Derry was amazing. I don’t think the tickets would have been that cheap at the time because the Complex could only hold about 2,000 people.
“It was televised live as well. Without the support of the public I couldn’t have done it,” concluded Charlie.