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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Barry Clifford: Requiem For A Middleweight- Sean Mannion

In a sport of true champions there is one other boxer perhaps lost in the shuffle of what that means and that is Sean Mannion.

He was based in Boston and in the ring when Hagler, Leonard, Duran and Hearns were in there too and at their peak. He did not fight this fabulous four but fought their equal in Mike Mc Callum who was then the world middleweight champion in 1984. To get that shot he first faced E-Choi- Beck, who was then 26-0 with all his wins coming by knockout but Mannion gave him his first loss. Yet, Beck survived for another day and many more days after that with a total of 47 fights and 43 knockouts and never gave Mannion another chance to blemish his record a second time. Because of Sean’s win it was on at last between him and Mc Callum.

Mannion climbed into the ring prepared as he ever was going to be despite a cut eye in training that required seven stitches. Mc Callum climbed in too with a world title on the line and that same world pressing down hard on his shoulders: his girlfriend and mother of their child had died only 12 weeks before while he was preparing for this fight.

The fight in the end was a shutout for Mc Callum for Sean never got that close but no dignity was lost either. It showed that Sean could and mix it up with the best, the very best. I watched it live as it happened and became hoarse from shouting and expectation hoping against the odds that Sean would do it. He won in every other way: his courage, tenacity, and humbleness were all on display for the world to see. Someone up there liked him and down here too. But his biggest battles were yet to be fought and all outside the ring.

Sean was in constant struggle with bad management where he would earn more labouring on a building site than from the ring. Unscrupulously, promoters and middle-men, more wise to the commerce of dishonesty, made sure Sean stayed there for any chances or money from fame was soon parted from  any would be fortune. Sean began to drink more in despair consigned to the Boston Irish bars and stories of the ‘almost were champions’ and there was not to be much money either to be made from losing.

No wresting matches came along, no fighting with doped up aging bears at the circus, and no free drinks unless it was a story they had not heard before or did not mind hearing again of what might have been. In the end the only story left to be told was that Sean returned to his native and beloved Rosmuc in Connemara.

Sean is still there and still in the business of fighting and never giving up on his dreams. In this part of the country Sean put Rosmuc on the map when even people living in Galway city did not know where it was and that map is still being redrawn by him today.

Sean trains another generation from Rosmuc and afar, encouraging them and giving them the wisdom about the road that they have yet to travel. A road he knows well. If there was ever a song that needed to be sung or a requiem to a middleweight yet to be written, surely it need to be about Sean Mannion, one the greats among fighters where even losing made him a winner, and gave power to the trying of it all.

By Barry Clifford