'Next thing, he was in a coma. I'm sat there thinking, 'what the f*** is boxing all about?''

With Gary Murray having woken from his coma, Paddy Gallagher wants his former foe to walk him to the ring in 2018.

Image: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

“IT WAS A crazy night, as you know. Crazy. The fight was a fucking whirlwind. It was mad. Ah, there was plenty of action – as always!

“And it was a good fight for everybody to watch. I enjoyed it. But afterwards, I couldn’t celebrate it. I knew right away there was something wrong.” – Paddy ‘Pat Man’ Gallagher

Joe Molloy’s rightly-championed interview with former WBA World lightweight champion Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini on Off The Ball last week got me to thinking of a chap from Belfast, and how fortunate he might consider himself that he’ll likely never be asked the question, ‘what’s it like to kill a man?’

More pertinently, it reminded me of a different chap from Glasgow, and how fortunate he might consider himself that he can marry his fiancée next year; that he can speak, think and move coherently; that he avoided the tragic fate which befell the late Duk Koo Kim following his defeat to Mancini, as well as the lamentable legacy left by their 14-round war in 1982.

“I said it to you afterwards,” recalls Belfast’s Paddy Gallagher, “and I said it to the referee, I said it to Sam Kynoch – the promoter – and to anyone I was talking to: ‘there’s definitely something wrong here.’

“I don’t know why but I just knew.”

It’s seven weeks since Pat-Man’s gruesome 10-round tussle with Glasgow’s Gary ‘Mint’ Murray, and just over three since the previously undefeated Scot woke from his medically-induced coma.

It’s also not difficult to ascertain how Gallagher, even following 29-or-so minutes of fearsome, fistic warfare, knew almost instantaneously that he shouldn’t celebrate what was a career-best victory in Edinburgh: the fight’s final exchange saw a battered, exhausted and disoriented Murray crash to the canvas after a barrage which caused even the only two reporters left in the Meadowbank Arena –’s Joe O’Neill and this writer – to leave their seats and implore referee Terry O’Connor to stop the contest.

Murray’s close friend, Edinburgh welterweight John Thain, did the same, as did the vast majority of the few hundred supporters who remained past midnight to watch the ‘floater’ bout between the MTK pair.

So too did Gallagher himself, who shouted at veteran official O’Connor: ‘fuck’s sake, he’s badly hurt!’ about halfway through the round which would transpire to end Murray’s boxing career.

Following a belated stoppage, Murray was rushed to hospital where it was discovered he had suffered a bleed to his brain. He was placed in a coma and underwent an operation which saved his life.

“I knew because of the way he was looking – his eyes were kind of glazed over,” says Gallagher. “He was looking right through me. Maybe because I knew what I’d fuckin’ hit him with, too, and I know the damage I can do – with a couple of punches, never mind fuckin’ loads of them.

“I didn’t get to celebrate it for obvious reasons.

“Yourself and Joe and everybody else thought it should have been stopped. Obviously now, looking back in hindsight, you can say it definitely should have been stopped sooner.

“That’s just the way it is. We’ve moved on. I’ve spoken to Gary a few times – he actually tweeted me there recently.

He’s okay. He has no hard feelings whatsoever. Obviously, he can’t remember the fight, but he remembers before it and after it. He remembers the changing-room before and afterwards, but nothing about the fight.

“We’ve had a good chat, and I’m going to go see him – hopefully before Christmas.

“I wanted to go see him sooner but then this fight came up. But he said: ‘look, any time you’re free, come over.’

“I will get over one day in the next month or two.

We talked as well about him walking me to the ring whenever I get a big title fight. Ger, my trainer – it was his idea, and Gary said: ‘fuck, that’d be absolutely brilliant.’

“He’s obviously gutted he lost the fight as well but he says to me, ‘look, I lost to a good fighter: make sure you do something big for yourself in boxing so I’ll know I lost to the right person.’ Which is good, like.

While Murray might transition to lacing up the gloves of others’, Gallagher’s path as a prizefighter continues in aplomb in Belfast tonight.

For the 28-year-old there are no regrets, but a renewed perspective as to the toils of his trade. He hopes, of course, to never inadvertently endanger an opponent’s life again, but he’s never been one to pull punches on either side of the ropes.

“There’s a chance it can happen to anyone, whether you’re a puncher or not. You’re taking blows to the head, like, and the human brain can only take so much.

“But just because it happened once doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll happen again. Doesn’t mean it won’t, either.

“I have a bit of power, I know I can punch. My record [eight KOs from 12 wins] and my last fight kind of speak for themselves, there.

“It could happen again.

“Maybe in future referees will take a bit more notice, like, ‘fuck me, he put a man in hospital. The guy was in a bad condition and could have died’.

“People might be somewhat aware of that, be it referees or coaches or boxers or whatever.

“In future, hopefully I don’t find myself in that position again. A few people have actually asked me, ‘has it put you off? Are you afraid to hit people?’ No. I sparred again straight away after that fight and I threw heavy shots. And I’ve been throwing them ever since.

So it hasn’t really put me off, but if it comes to a position where someone is badly hurt, like I did that time against Gary, I’ll shout at the referee and tell him it should be stopped. I will do it again: ‘for fuck’s sake, stop the fight.’

“But I’ll not necessarily be stepping off people and afraid to hit people,” Gallagher adds. “Because if I do, I could stand back afraid to hit someone and they could fuckin’ hit me and take me out. D’you know what I mean?”

Paddy Gallagher Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

For such an amicable pugilistic personality, it strikes as a cold response.

Cognisant of this very fact, perhaps, Gallagher then delves deeper in recalling the days following his ill-fated bout in Edinburgh, and how his opponent’s condition caused him to contemplate leaving the sport in his rear-view.

“At the time, it was a hard few days,” he says.

“That night, he got taken to hospital, and I just thought it was a standard enough check-up – an in-and-out job. But then later on they say: ‘oh, he’s had a bit of a bleed in the brain.’ I didn’t know how bad that was, but I knew it wasn’t a good thing.

“I woke up the next day and they said: ‘oh, he’s going for an operation.’ Next thing, he was in a coma.

“People said it could be 24 to 48 hours. It ended up, obviously, being three-and-a-half weeks.

“It went longer than I expected, and it was a bit – a bit fuckin’…a bit scary, like.

“The day after was a bit shitty. I was keeping up to date, chatting to a big man, Ian Ritchie, and Sam Kynoch as well, the promoter. They were telling me: ‘look, it is what it is. He’s in a position now where they’ve operated’ – that kind of stuff.

“The Saturday was a bit shitty, but the Sunday – my God – that was a bad, bad day. The missus was trying to cheer me up but it was all a bit weird. I don’t know.

I’m just sat there thinking, ‘what the fuck is boxing all about?’ D’you know what I mean? Just thinking, ‘will I ever box again? Will I want to? What am I doing this for, as much as I love it and all?’

“It was in my head for a few days: the fight – and what happened afterwards – was all I could think about. It was still a bit fresh.

Four or five days later, I remember I was sitting down with the missus and the two kids, watching TV, just thinking about it. I remember thinking, ‘it could have been me. Instead of sitting here watching TV with my family, I could be lying fucking tubed up in intensive care in some hospital in Edinburgh.’

“Things like that, fuck me… It’s all a bit mad, isn’t it?”

It’s only subsequently, then, and particularly having spoken with Murray on a number of occasions since the Glaswegian’s recovery, that Gallagher has made peace with punching the heads off lads once more.

That process, however, began while Murray lay in a coma, and it was expedited by an unlikely source.

“A few days later, I think it was the Monday, Gary’s partner – his fiancée, Kellie – got in touch with me.

“She actually sent me a message on Facebook just to tell me about his condition and to say there were no hard feelings, that we were both gentlemen and we showed a lot of sportsmanship beforehand, that I shouldn’t worry.

“She told me there wasn’t much she could do except stay with him in hospital and basically just sit in the corner. But she was very good: she was keeping me up to date all the time, texting me or talking to me on the phone. She was telling me things were getting better.

“I started coming to terms with things a bit then. His missus was keeping me informed, telling me when he was going to be moved out of the ward and things like that, and I started to calm down a bit.

“Each day it was getting a bit easier and easier, because she was telling me: ‘he’ll probably come out of here okay. He’ll not box again, but he won’t be disabled or brain-damaged or anything like that.’

“When he got woken up I knew before most people.

“And then I got offered this fight, and unfortunately, even though I’m fuckin’ gutted for Gary, of course, my own career can’t exactly just stop, you know? I have a few years left in the game, so I can’t sit around crying over spilled milk.

Like Gary says, I want to move on so I can achieve things, and at least he’ll know he was beaten by a very good fighter.

Gallagher pauses for a moment before continuing: “It’s strange, like. I didn’t even know Gary or his fiancée. I’m only getting to know Gary now just through chatting to him the odd time. I thought he had kids, which was a bit fuckin’ hard as well. I don’t think he does, though, actually – he has a nephew, I think.

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“But obviously having kids myself, you’d be distraught thinking about kids being left without their daddy or their mummy.

“It is mad. My missus, as well – it was hard for her to see because it could have been the other way around as well, like. It could have been me lying in hospital. In a way, it’s only one step away from me lying in hospital.

“You don’t think it’ll happen to you until it ends up on your door. It’s fucking hard.

“Ger [McManus, trainer], here, as well – he’s sitting beside me. He said if it had been the other way around, and if I was taking the shots that Gary was, the towel would have been in three rounds sooner. He knows the limits. As much as you want to win, it’s a man’s health we’re talking about.

I think the weight of it only dawned on me properly a couple of days later. I was gutted, Ger was gutted. Maybe you were even a bit gutted having seen it at ringside. And you just think, ‘how the fuck does his corner feel?’ D’you know what I mean?

Indeed. In my original report from the fight, published 10 days later both due to Murray’s condition and a delay in receiving an official statement from the British Boxing Board of Control, I criticised referee Terry O’Connor for failing in his duties but suggested it wasn’t yet time for questions to be asked of Murray’s corner, who had failed to protect their fighter.

I copped some flak for that. To be honest, I expected to, and in retrospect, perhaps I might have worded it better or expanded upon it.

My reasons, for what they’re worth, were as follows:

Firstly, the buck stops with the referee. Under Queensbury rules, only the referee retains the absolute power to stop a fight, and he or she can dismiss a corner’s towel as he or she sees fit. The referee is duty-bound to ensure both fighters’ safety even more so than their respective corners, who each have a horse in the race.

Secondly, much of the gruesome action at fight’s end transpired with Murray’s back facing his own corner, whose view was subsequently obscured. The referee, stood no more than two yards away, always had a complete view of the action.

Thirdly, and most pertinently, Murray was in a coma, and his corner would surely have been dealing with sufficient grief – and indeed guilt – without being called out for their failure to intervene. Conversely, Terry O’Connor was evidently fine: he refereed Anthony Crolla-Ricky Burns in Manchester less than 24 hours later.

“It was their responsibility – the corner and the referee, but mainly the referee,” says Gallagher.

“Of course you’d have to wonder what went on in his corner, but you can’t kick them while they’re down.”

Gallagher’s own trainer, Gerard McManus, who was brought to tears following the fight’s grim ending, adds through the loudspeaker:

“After the fight, his corner just looked really, really shocked. Just complete and utter shock. Even the older guys. Whether they didn’t want to stop it or what, I just don’t know.

“The truth is you don’t know what’s going on in people’s heads in that moment.”

Paddy Gallagher Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

Gallagher’s own head has long since cleared, and he returns to the ring at the Devenish Complex in his hometown seeking his third stoppage victory from three fights this year.

It’s more a case of preventing corrosion than anything as he eyes a career-defining 2018.

Then it’s onto titles, and a potentially poetic return to the ring for an old adversary-turned-friend, however brief.

“I’m fighting a lad called Gergi Varo or Gergo Vari or something like that [Gergo Vari] from Hungary. I think he has 21 wins, 20 losses, three draws. He’s a bit of a journeyman, but I don’t think he’s a complete fucking bum – he’s fought a good few handy lads.

“It’s just a fight to keep me active, because in March or April, I’m going to have a big fight. That’s all to be sorted soon.

“I’d love to get a knockout, obviously, but the more rounds the better. I had a good 10-round battle with Gary in the last fight, and I’ve had a solid year, so I kind of feel I’m building good stamina – a bit of an engine – for 10-round fights and 12-round fights.

“I want a couple of titles next year. Two, three titles would be nice. I’m number six in Britain, number one in Ireland and number 13 in the IBF European rankings, but they’ve not been updated since September or something, so they’re not taking into account that fight with Gary Murray.

With Friday’s fight, I could be in the top seven or eight by the end of the year. British and European-level titles: I’d love to get one of them, definitely, and sure maybe Gary might walk me into the ring when the day comes.

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‘I told the ref, ‘f***’s sake, he’s badly hurt” – Paddy Gallagher laments Murray finish

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