Sunday 22 October 2017

Cathal Barrett keeping the fight going for the family

Tipp youngster tells Jackie Cahill how his success is helping his father in his battle against cancer

Cathal Barrett, Tipperary
Cathal Barrett, Tipperary

Jackie Cahill

Those who were there reckon that Cathal Barrett was the best pound-for-pound fighter on the night. It was November 2013, Upperchurch-Drombane against Barrett's club Holycross-Ballycahill in a charity boxing fundraiser, and Barrett stole the show with his boxing skills and typically flamboyant entrance.

Barrett had asked a guy he knew, a DJ, to put together a remix of the music made famous by wrestling star The Undertaker, to mark his grand entrance.

With ominous sound blaring through the PA system, Barrett was delivered to the ring in a home-made coffin carried by his friends, before emerging to take on his opponent.

Barrett smiles at the memory. "I had five or six lads - half of them were full of drink!"

But this wasn't Barrett's first experience of white-collar boxing. He'd fought before for Limerick IT against University of Limerick.

Who did you fight?

"Denis Keohane, he's actually from Tipp."

Did you beat him?

"I won, yeah."

You won in the charity event as well? Who were you fighting?

"Michael Gleeson, big man, a mechanic. Three one-minute rounds. Wrecked after it. Wrecked after 30 seconds, never mind a minute!

"I won on a points decision. I dropped him at one stage but I think it was more a trip!"

Would you do another one?

"Hopefully but maybe I'd like to actually watch it. But I could be persuaded!"

confidence

And that's Cathal Barrett. Self-confident, fearless, mentally strong.

Traits that he needed to get through the concluding stages of a landmark 2014 season. Because it was during last summer when Cathal, his two sisters and three brothers learned that their father Seamus had developed lung cancer.

Cathal remembers taking a call from his mother Cora one day and there was concern in her voice.

Soon, Seamus himself was on the phone.

Cathal recalls: "He said that he had to go for a check-up. They found a black dot on his lung and it developed from there. Every time he had a bit of news, he'd tell me."

Seamus underwent surgery to remove a tumour on his lung and is currently undergoing five weeks of radiation therapy.

The treatment is tough, naturally, but Seamus is in "good form" and battling through as best he can.

Watching his son perform as he did last year was a help, too.

And seeing him collect the 2014 Young Hurler of the Year award was another boost.

Cathal nods: "The hurling would have brought him on a fierce amount, kept him going."

It was Seamus, a handy player himself in his day, who first introduced Cathal to the game when he was a young boy.

"The father brought me down to the hurling field - I was six or seven. In the primary school, Tommy McGrath was training all the teams and Timmy Delaney was the principal. Timmy loved it, a great GAA man, a Borrisoleigh man. There was always hurling wherever I went - it was hard not to pick it up."

In late 2013, he remembers watching a soccer match on TV in Kevin Ryan's, the local, when Tipperary's assistant team manager Michael Ryan picked up the phone.

It wasn't long after the boxing and Barrett remembers Ryan saying: "I don't want you to come in and make up numbers. I want you to come in and make the team."

That was music to Barrett's ears and from that moment on, he kept his head down, worked hard and learned.

"I think it was (Paul) Curran's first training session back and he said to me, 'You're going well but you need to keep it up'," he recalls.

"That was his first introduction but I like that. I like to listen - the older lads have a lot to give. I take it all in."

He pulled on a Tipp senior shirt for the first time that December in a senior challenge against Westmeath at The Ragg - and was highly impressive again a week later when Tipp beat Wexford in another pre-season warm-up.

Barrett's form was rewarded with an opportunity to stake his claim for a regular place in 2014 and he grabbed it with both hands.

He earned huge plaudits for his performance against Henry Shefflin in the Allianz League final before Barrett's championship debut arrived against Limerick in June.

Tipp lost but Barrett held his own - and his place for the remainder of the season.

After that, it was a who's who of star inter-county forwards that he found himself pitched into opposition against.

marked

He remembers: "For the Limerick match it was Seanie Tobin, in the Galway game I marked David Burke, tall, green helmet. Joe Bergin against Offaly - another big lad.

"For the Dublin game it was Colm Cronin, he had scored a goal in the Leinster final.

"Patrick Horgan in the Cork game, Wally Walsh in the first Kilkenny game, John Power in the first half of the replay, Eoin Larkin in the second. All big men."

In the 2012 All-Ireland final replay, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody brought in Walsh to start against Galway and that move paid off in spades.

Walsh tormented Johnny Coen but the same trick didn't faze Barrett. "Didn't bother me in the slightest - I'd prefer that," he declares.

"They're obviously going to see me as probably the weak point in the defence (but) that would give me more encouragement anyway.

"Probably because I was a newcomer and with my size they might have thought a bit of inexperience would get me on the day or that the occasion might overwhelm me. Hard to know."

But long before then, Barrett felt utterly at home in the Tipperary full-back line.

And it's the small things that help, right down to the pre-match parade and not allowing himself to be distracted.

"For the first (Kilkenny) game, I didn't look at the crowd once - I just looked at the back of Darren Gleeson's head and kept saying to myself - 'first ball'."

He won it, incidentally, but even if he didn't, "There's always going to be a second ball."

There's going to be a second season, too, for Cathal Barrett starting tomorrow in Parnell Park against Dubiln.

And that's just fine.

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