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'I told the ref, 'f***'s sake, he's badly hurt'': Murray remains in hospital after shambolic Gallagher bout

Last Friday week in Edinburgh, I found myself violating various journalistic codes in roaring at a referee to stop a fight. When he did intervene, it was too late.

Image: IFL TV

OF THE THREE men that took to the ring in Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Arena at 11:30pm on Friday, 6 October, two combined to provide those in attendance with a rip-roaring back-and-forth.

The other failed utterly in his duty.

Referee and judge Terry O’Connor is a veteran of no fewer than 1,283 professional bouts, but the Birmingham official can consider himself lucky that time constraints dictated his 1,281st didn’t make BoxNation’s telecast from the Scottish capital.

He’s more fortunate, still, that his inexplicable error in judgement didn’t transpire to cost a man a whole lot more than his boxing career.

For the bones of three hours that Friday night, Belfast’s Paddy ‘Pat Man’ Gallagher and Glasgow’s Gary ‘The Mint’ Murray awaited the ring call for their British Boxing Board of Control Celtic welterweight title scrap. Both had previously been informed that the timing of their fight would depend solely upon the respective duration of several other scraps on MTK Scotland’s thoroughly entertaining Capital Collision card, which featured an impressive victory for Ireland’s Paddy Barnes amongst others.

They were finally ushered to the squared circle with midnight approaching, but Buncey and the BoxNation crew had already made their exit, leaving behind only the network’s tech team to disassemble the various accoutrements at ringside.

The majority of paying customers had taken off too; hundreds of chirping shadow-boxers spilled out onto the floodlit London Road contented with the night’s viewing. It was the weekend, and there were friends to meet as well as last calls to beat.

There was still a bit of noise about the place, though. The tremendously popular Murray, his record unblemished, must have taken a hundred fervent Glaswegians with him up the M8, with Gallagher’s following – more modest in number but certainly not lacking in the come-on-to-f***ery stakes – perched upon the steps over my left-hand shoulder while facing the ring.

And for nine rounds, it seemed the punters, pinters and early-nighters had made a balls of their decision to depart; Gallagher and Murray stood toe-to-toe and let fly with abandon, the Lenadoon man consistently landing the more thudding, head-snapping blows, the teak-tough Murray absorbing everything and flinging back with aplomb, notably jellying Gallagher’s legs with a clip around the ear in the fifth.

The 10th and final stanza, however, unfurled as a reprehensible shambles, resulting in the defeated Murray being hauled to hospital following a lengthy deliberation from ringside doctors.

He remains there – in a stable condition, thankfully – having been put in a medically-induced coma hours after what transpired to be an ill-fated bout.

I’ll remember the fight’s drawn-out conclusion as long as I live. By the final round, Gallagher’s pedigree and power had begun to tell, and he was landing debilitating shots at will. Murray, still roared on by his vociferous fanbase, appeared to all but concede defeat when he stepped backwards to paw away some blood that had trickled into his eye.

This had been a monumental effort by the 13-fight Scot, whose moment’s hesitancy was punished by way of yet another Gallagher assault. Noticeably unsteady, Murray was finally beginning to unravel; the Antrim man himself paused as the disfigured Murray reeled from his latest thumping. Gallagher gestured toward referee O’Connor as if to request that the man in the middle end Murray’s suffering rather than allow him to eat more leather.

And had the contest not been so close up until that point, perhaps O’Connor might have accepted the Irishman’s invitation. Instead, Murray, running on fumes, was allowed to womble forward once more. Again, his head took an almighty rattling. Again, he refused to bow out.

With a minute remaining, a fed-up Gallagher let loose, three or four monstrous, winging shots finding a target that had been rendered hapless and, most importantly, defenceless. An exhausted and bloodied Murray, now conspicuously close to collapse, instinctively turned away from the action in bewilderment. It was over. It had to be.

Except it wasn’t. There was still no intervention from O’Connor.

The Glaswegian massive were now shrieking incoherently to my left, eyes bulging not in bloodlust nor encouragement, but in sheer panic.

I’m uncomfortable in admitting it, but I think it’s important to do so in order to contextualise the glaringly obvious peril of the fight’s final moments: for the first time in my albeit short career, I found myself violating countless unwritten codes and personally screaming at the referee to stop the fight.

A colleague from Irish-boxing.com, Joe O’Neill – the only other remaining boxing writer in the Meadowbank at this stage – was doing the same. It was edge-of-seat stuff, but only in that we found ourselves caught in the purgatory between sitting and standing, trying in vain to maintain some modicum of professionalism.

Were he present, the venerable Gerry Callan might have offered us a quiet reminder of our duties. Then again, he might not have. This was seriously bad – so much so that one seat further to our left at ringside, Edinburgh welterweight John Thain – a close friend of Murray – was screaming through cupped hands at O’Connor, pleading with the official to end the contest. Most in our periphery were raucously demanding similar.

In a last-gasp bid to curtail what had rapidly become a stomach-churning onslaught, Murray, eyes glazed, arms outstretched, dove towards Gallagher’s shoulders, but had nowhere near the required energy to hold on for dear life. The Belfast banger instinctively dipped and swiveled, sending Murray crashing to a canvas which had been calling his name for the bones of a minute.

‘The Mint’, whose condition was by now anything but, was unable to so much as muster the liveliness to break his own fall. With the thud of his head, he lay sprawled out on his back. Given the pummeling which had preceded his tumble, I can’t stress enough how obvious it was at this juncture that the Scot would not rise to his feet.

What had seemed like a perpetual cacophony of pugnacious howling was sucked out of the arena instantly, vacuum-like, with countless cupped hands rapidly migrating north to the tops of heads.

Enter Terry O’Connor, a solid half-minute too late. Incredibly, he gestured for the motionless Murray to get up, having (correctly, for what it’s worth) ruled the 30-year-old’s nosedive a slip; it was not the direct result of a Gallagher punch, but more an amalgamation of fatigue and the accumulation of damage he had been force-fed.

Realising Murray was incapacitated, a panicked O’Connor then pulled a rather bizarre u-turn and administered a 10-count, seemingly indicating that he had misinterpreted Murray’s grounded state to have been caused by what British Boxing Board rules call ‘a legitimate blow’ – one which, by second-guessing himself, O’Connor was conceding he may have missed during the fighters’ final coming-together.

Only he didn’t miss it, because it didn’t happen. There was no legitimate blow to end the contest. Instead there were merely the countless thumps taken by Murray – the final 30 seconds’ worth senseless and needless – which saw the preposterously brave Scot’s brain and brawn give out as the final bell beckoned.

O’Connor reached ‘five’ in his count before waving off the contest and immediately signalling for the ringside doctors.

That moment, too, produced one of the most jarring realisations from this neutral’s perspective: after a barn-burning scrap, the stoppage drew not a single murmur from a victorious Paddy Gallagher nor his corner, and most pertinently not even the fans who had bellowed on his every shot from the get-go.

Only a slight ringing of the ear and the sound of medical officials clambering aboard the ring interrupted the uncomfortable silence, the pitter patter of footsteps heading for the exit door particularly slow, muted, as eyes averted towards the stricken Scot. His friends and family stayed put, texting, crying, hugging, whispering, peering over shoulders.

Gallagher, for his part, gently saluted his own travelling faithful before gingerly descending to ground level, embracing his team not unlike a returning war veteran might family members in an arrivals lounge, still glancing over his shoulder on a couple of occasions to check on Murray, who was receiving oxygen while still laid out in the same position in which he had landed.

The unbearable pressure would be drained from the chamber as Joe O’Neill and I made our way over to the victorious Antrim man for a post-fight dissection; pandemonium from the Glaswegian contingent drew gazes back toward the scene of the action, where after a quick scan through the umpteen bodies pacing the ring, it became apparent that Murray was finally sitting upright – some three to four minutes after he had initially disintegrated.

Joe removed one of Paddy Gallagher’s gloves, while to their left, leaning across the barricade between the stand and the media section, the welterweight’s trainer Gerard McManus fought back tears in conversation with Gallagher’s girlfriend.

McManus is a man whose life was saved by boxing per his own admission, indeed so much so that his story was turned into an acclaimed stage play, Lemonade Sandwich, which ran in Belfast Opera House a couple of years ago. On this night, however, he had witnessed his saving grace deliver its harshest of truths, and at the hands of his own fighter, no less. Such are the joys.

With Murray having been moved to his stool in order to receive attention, the decision was made to head back to Gallagher’s changing room in order to conduct some kind of post-fight interview, however difficult it was bound to be in the circumstances.

We meandered through the stragglers, most of whom were at last content to leave with Murray conscious and responsive. There were a couple of congratulatory fist-bumps for the reigning Celtic welterweight champ as he marched towards his dressing room, head down, which were bashfully reciprocated, but Pat Man’s pacy strides towards the labyrinth of hairdryers, corridors and labelled doors spoke volumes.

Untitled Gary Murray (left) and Paddy Gallagher (right) pose after the weigh-in for their Celtic title clash Source: MTK Scotland Twitter

“First of all, hopefully he’s all right,” said a bruised Gallagher as he collapsed onto his dressing-room bench. “The doctors told me he’s going to get a CT scan, and I think he’s gone in for precautions. Hopefully he’s all right. Fair play to him.

“I said it to someone else out there, he’s a gentleman – start to finish. What I was saying wasn’t thrash-talking or giving him a hard time or anything. I respect him. I just thought I was going to stop him within six. But I was just building things up.

“Fair play to him, he showed a lot of sportsmanship, he’s tough – you don’t need me to tell you that. It was a very tough fight. One of the shots he hit me with in the back of the head rocked me in the fifth. A lot of my shots would have put down a fuckin’ horse, not to mind a boxer. He took some big shots.

I thought it might have been stopped a bit sooner. Because it was very even, I think Terry O’Connor let it go a bit, because there wasn’t too much left. But when I had him against the ropes I caught him with a couple of big shots. I said: ‘ref, he’s badly hurt.’ And he came back at me, so in reaction I went ‘boom’. But hopefully he’s alright, everything is okay with him.

“Don’t curse,” whispered McManus to his fighter, whose paws were outstretched so that the former could scissor off his hand-wraps.

“He’ll cut it out, the bastard!” retorted Gallagher, nodding in Joe’s direction, providing some much needed comic relief – as is his wont.

The 28-year-old continued, flagrantly disregarding his coach’s request: “He was getting tired, he was feeling the pace. And he was feeling the shots as well.

“A few times I hit him, and it would fuckin’ break your heart, so it would. ‘Boom, boom’. Heavy shots, my knuckle’s hurt – it’s not broken, but it’s swelling.

“That last punch I hit him with as well, just before the ref stepped in… He called it a slip, but he [Murray] was done. All going well, Gary Murray will be all right.”

Even in a crucial career moment, and one which Gallagher admits arrived as a massive relief, it was Murray who remained most prevalent in the minds of both the victor and his team. The fighter once more pondered aloud the actions of referee O’Connor, reiterating that he had invited the veteran official to stop the fight before its chilling finish.

Seconds before he went down, I banged him with – I think it was a right hand – and I rolled under. I came up, hit him with another, and he looked badly hurt. I stepped back, I said to the ref: ‘ref, fuck’s sake, he’s badly hurt’ – and that’s exactly how I said it – and he [Murray] came at me, so I threw another couple.

“Then he fell. I sort of turned around. The ref thought it was a slip.”

There was a conversation, then, between all of us, as to whether O’Connor counted Murray out, therefore overruling his own assertion that the Scot had slipped, or conversely, as to whether he simply waved the fight off when Murray fell to the canvas. In either case, it was an unconventional ending which should never have come to fruition.

“He did count!” was Gallagher’s adamant take on the matter, putting to bed any uncertainty.

We left him to shower and receive his own medical assessment, piecing together the night’s event in the hallway outside. Gallagher eventually re-emerged in his jocks and approached one of the backstage security staff to inquire as to Murray’s condition.

“They took him to hospital, mate,” was the suit-clad steward’s reply, drawing a contemplative scowl from the Belfast man who promptly returned to his chambers.

Back at the hotel, there was much speculation regarding Murray’s condition, but it would be Sunday before the extent of Murray’s injuries were relayed to the public. Indeed, it was Paddy Gallagher – having spoken with Murray’s fiancée, due to marry her partner next year – who revealed in a Belfast Telegraph interview that the Glasgow stylist had been put in a medically-induced coma.

In a number of statements since, MTK Scotland have explained that Murray remains in a stable condition, his prognosis positive. It’s important to note, too, that the promoters followed every safety regulation, took every possible precaution, and dealt with the situation adequately on the night.

The organisation revealed last week that doctors had ‘detected an injury’ suffered by Murray when he was transferred to hospital, understood to be a bleed to his brain, which required ‘immediate action.’ Crucially, it was caught on time, and the medical professionals handling his situation have indicated that he’s making good progress.

Equally important is the fact that his injury may have occurred long in advance of the fight’s brutal conclusion; this was a gruelling contest, and it should not be claimed that Terry O’Connor’s awful decision not to intervene sooner was the direct cause of Murray’s current condition.

It can, however, be stated that his unexplainable hesitancy to stop the fight, and the shots that consequentially bounced off Murray’s head, certainly did not help matters. Had the 30-year-old warrior not physically collapsed without conscious volition, this might have been an entirely more dire situation – grim and all as it is in any case.

“Gary’s still in hospital and obviously we’ve discussed the matter,” Robert Smith, General Secretary of the BBBofC told The42 on Monday, “but we won’t be doing anything at all until we’ve got the outcome of Gary’s health.

We will review everything that went on – medical procedures, the performances of the officials, et cetera. We will do that at some point. We had a meeting last week where it was initially reported to the Board by medical staff, et cetera. When we’re in a position to take it further, we will do.

“At the present time, Gary’s in the hospital, and we’d rather just wait,” he concluded.

Still, it’s frankly unbelievable that less than 24 hours after Gallagher-Murray, O’Connor was back on refereeing duty, and for a headline fight in Manchester between Anthony Crolla and Ricky Burns, no less. There’s surely no chance he was in the right frame of mind to officiate so soon after Edinburgh’s ghastly episode. In fact, if he was, it poses further questions.

Manchester Arena Boxing Source: Peter Byrne

None of this is remotely designed to be a character assassination nor a dismissal of O’Connor’s integrity; he’s had countless better nights as the third man in the ring – including two since Murray’s fight last Friday. It refers only to one specific refereeing performance, which on 6 October was frightful and extremely hazardous.

It would be remiss not to point out that the Glaswegian’s corner will have questions to ask of themselves, too. Those aren’t for now, however.

Gary Murray will never box again, his promising pugilistic career coming to a premature halt at 13-1. That will be the last thing on the minds of his fiancée, family, friends and fans as he continues in his recovery.

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Originally published 2:59 PM, 16 Oct 2017

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