Saturday 3 December 2016

12 Days of Kimmage: Olympic champion Michael Carruth talks to Paul Kimmage

Over the Christmas/New Year period we'll be looking back at some of Paul Kimmage's big interviews of 2015. Here's his sit-down with 1992 Olympic gold medallist Michael Carruth

Published 02/01/2016 | 12:00

Michael Carruth: ‘People say, “Ahh, you never got the recognition you deserved being Olympic champion.” So what? You can’t cry about it. And I’m never going to be bitter.’
Michael Carruth: ‘People say, “Ahh, you never got the recognition you deserved being Olympic champion.” So what? You can’t cry about it. And I’m never going to be bitter.’

Almost twenty-four years have passed since that night at Drimnagh Boxing Club when I first set eyes on Michael Carruth.

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The month was January 1992 and I was writing a 'live' feature on the two marquee fights of the National Boxing Championships: Carruth and Billy Walsh at Welterweight and the Bantamweight battle between Joe Lawlor and Wayne McCullough.

The Carruth/Walsh fight was particularly interesting. They had first roomed together at the European Championships in 1987 and had become close at the Seoul Olympics where Carruth had fought at lightweight. In 1991, things had gotten complicated when Carruth moved up to welterweight and lost his national title to his friend.

A year later, they were facing each other again and the stakes had rarely been higher: the winner would take the title and a shot at the Barcelona Olympics. And the loser? "The loser is gone," Walsh said. "For me, it's definitely my last fight if I don't win and I think it might be the end for Michael as well."

It was a cold Wednesday evening when I arrived on Keeper Road. The roof of the club was leaking and the place reeked of grit and sweat. A couple of gas heaters had ramped up the temperature and Carruth was in the ring, dancing and weaving around a towel being waved by his coach and father Austin, or "Aussie" as he was affectionately known.

The first thing that struck me was how unalike they were. Austin was bespectacled and lean and unflappable; Michael was like a pitbull straining on a leash. "I couldn't think of a better way of getting the title back than beating Billy," he said, "not because I'm being bad about it, I just feel I was done out of it last year. If Billy had been beaten in the semi-final last week I wouldn't be happy. I want to beat Billy Walsh in the final."

Two days later he beat Walsh on a split-decision. Eight months after that, he became the first Irishman in 36 years to win an Olympic gold. In the weeks and months that followed we couldn't get enough of him but the music had slowly died and in a strange reversal, the guy making all the new headlines was Billy Walsh.

Last January, on a whim, I set out one Friday evening and took a spectator's seat in the stands for the National Boxing finals. Two decades had passed since I had last spoken to Michael and I was curious about what was happening in his life and if he was still drawn to the Stadium.

An hour passed. Jimmy Magee arrived and was mobbed by a group of fans; Pete Taylor and Kenny Egan breezed in and sat close to each other. But there was no sign of Michael. And then, just when I'd given up hope, he slipped quietly into the arena with his brother, Martin.

Three nights later, I followed him to Keeper Road and watched him coaching a group of kids at his old club in Drimnagh. Two weeks after that, we sat down for a first interview. A week later we met again. And again. And again.

Michael liked to talk and his powers of recall were extraordinary. He could remember the headline on that first feature I'd written in '92: 'Michael and Wayne are set for the plane'. He could remember where he was when McGuigan beat Pedroza in '85: "I watched it from the kitchen of Blinkers (nightclub) in Leopardstown."

He could remember the moment he got engaged to his lifetime sweetheart, Paula: "April 4, 1992. Party Politics had just won the Grand National." He could remember every opponent and every fight and every bead of sweat from his triumph in Barcelona. But it was the stuff he wanted to forget that really made him interesting.

1 The Chosen One

Paul Kimmage: Tell me about that night (last January) when I met you at the Stadium?

Michael Carruth: It was a Friday. Martin was with me. We had done a training session here with some of the kids and he was thinking of going home and having a beer and I said, "Come on, we'll go to the Stadium and watch a few fights." I wanted to watch the Ray Moylette/Ross Hickey fight. I wanted to watch Dean Walsh. We got there just in time.

PK: How does it make you feel going back?

MC: Good and bad.

PK: What's the bad?

MC: That I can't do it again.

PK: Still?

MC: Still. I'd love to do it one more time.

PK: The urge never leaves you?

MC: I look at the categories I won titles in - lightweight, light-welterweight and welterweight - and the guys fighting now and think:

I'd beat him.

I'd beat him.

I'd beat him.

PK: (Laughs)

MC: Listen, we all do it.

PK: What did you do after?

MC: I dropped Martin back to his house in Greenhills, drove home to Naas and had a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape.

PK: Really?

MC: Yeah.

PK: Always Chateauneuf du Pape?

MC: (Laughs) Naah, it was a cheap bottle of Merlot I picked up for €8.99. I talked to Paula about the fights but she didn't want to listen. We watched TV and went to bed.

PK: Have a look at this (a photo of the podium in Barcelona) and the expression on your face: anyone would swear there had been a bereavement in the family.

MC: Well, there are two things about that moment: I was a soldier (at the time) and Amhran na bhFiann was playing so I stood to attention; I was holding flowers but I put my arms down, my heels together and my chest out. But the second, and most important thing was the shock. I was in total bloody shock. It was like I was in somebody else's body. I thought, 'What am I doing here?' I was waiting for someone to throw a bucket of water at me.

PK: What happens after the shock? What do you remember about coming home?

MC: We got on the plane and there was a pile of newspapers on every seat. I was sitting with Wayne (McCullough) and Cheryl (his girlfriend) and dad. The air hostess asked if we'd like some Bucks Fizz. I didn't know what it was. "I'll just have an orange juice please," I said. Paula had been telling me it was like the World Cup and that the place had gone crazy, and I wanted to keep a clear head.

PK: It was a late flight if I recall?

MC: Yeah, we didn't leave Barcelona until about 12.0 at night and it was about half one when we got to Dublin. My ma was first up the steps of the plane - and we joked about that at home for years because she had told Paula to go up first - and all my brothers and sisters were there. A huge crowd had turned up. We crossed the runway into the terminal and I remember this copper grabbed hold of me, and shoved me into a broom cupboard with Paula. I said: "What are we supposed to do here? Do they think we're going to get frisky?"

PK: Because it was a while since you had seen her?

MC: Yeah, so we got out and there was a reception (in the terminal) and the shock kicked in again. I didn't know what to say. Then they put us in a limousine - myself, Wayne, Paula and Cheryl - and booked us into two huge rooms at the Berkeley Court. It was 3.0 in the morning and we were like two kids: "Jaysus! You should see the size of my room!" And eventually we got to sleep.

PK: There was a parade the next day?

MC: We had our breakfast, and I thought we were going home but someone came in and said we were getting an open-top bus like they had after Italia '90. It was crazy. The crowds were massive. We started in Parnell Square and went down O'Connell Street and around by College Green to the Mansion House, where they had erected a stage. I thought 'Guys, should you not be at work?'

PK: You were 25 years old, had just got married and were working as a corporal in the army when you went to Barcelona?

MC: Yeah.

PK: What did a corporal earn?

MC: I think, at the time, it was beween £13,000 and £15,000.

PK: Was Paula working?

MC: She was a pharmacist's assistant.

PK: What was the mortgage on your house in Tallaght?

MC: I think we borrowed about £25,000 at around 16 per cent - the interest rates were huge back then.

PK: Then you win an Olympic gold medal on August 8.

MC: Yeah.

PK: This is a report (by Tony Whelan) in the Sunday Tribune two weeks later: Celebrity status should pay well for Carruth. Ireland's Olympic boxing hero will begin his career as a paid celebrity today when he appears at the unlikely venue of a stock car rally in Cashel. The event is the first public appearance organised by his new professional management company, Media Sports & Leisure, whose marketing skills will help the boxer earn between £1,000 and £2,000 per appearance, depending on time and location.

PK: Media Sports was John Givens' company?

MC: Yeah. I was being dragged from Billy to Jack and knew I was going to need management so I met a couple of people and went with John. That (the stock car rally) was the first official gig. They brought me in by helicopter to Thurles and I had to wave a flag and sign about a thousand autographs before I was whisked away.

PK: Over the next two weeks Michael is scheduled to open a hotel in Wexford, an Ideal Homes exhibition in Athlone, a new business premises in Tralee, in addition to launching a fashion show in Dublin. He is also due to appear as a surprise guest at a company function. A further 20 dates are yet to be confirmed. He also signed his first endorsement contract last week with official video sponsors of the Barcelona Olympics, Panasonic.

MC: Yeah, things were a bit hectic for a couple of months - but it is only a couple of months. People were saying I was going to become a millionaire and all this shit but I never had any illusions.

PK: You didn't?

MC: No. I won a bronze medal at the world championships (Moscow, 1989) and I thought it would change my life. Ten weeks later, I was walking home from Paula's house one night, I had trained, we had had a few smoochies, and it was pissing rain. I thought 'Yeah, this has really changed your life! You don't even have a bike!' So I was under no illusion going to Barcelona that things were going to be different. The most I hoped for was that we'd be able to buy a car - I was looking at a five-year-old Peugeot 205. But then I won and the fanfare started and EP Mooney sponsored me with a new car, a Nissan Sunny! And I had free petrol for a year from Maxol!

PK: So what was it worth?

MC: In what regard?

PK: You say you didn't become a millionaire. How much did you earn?

MC: I couldn't put a figure on it.

PK: You must have some idea.

MC: Probably about £200,000, but whatever I made I gave half back in tax, and that's the God's honest truth. I had to pay my tax bill, we all have to, but a millionaire? Bullshit. Whatever I've got in my life I've earned and that's the truth but I'm never going to be a bitter old man. I'm never going to say I should have got more. I have Paula and my two kids; I have four great sisters and five great brothers and ma and da are gone, but they're never gone.

PK: Tell me about your parents?

MC: Ma was originally a Maryland girl.

PK: Where's Maryland?

MC: The Liberties, down near the Guinness factory, 13 Lourdes Road. Her parents were Martin and Mary Humpston and they had ten kids, like my mother. The Carruths were also originally from town but moved out to Cabra, St Finbarr's road. Dad had three brothers and one sister, a small enough family if you call five small.

PK: How did they meet?

MC: My father was interested in boxing from a young age and joined the St Francis club on Usher Quay, where my (maternal) grandfather was the treasurer or secretary. The Humpstons were a big boxing family. Martin was the first light middleweight champion of Ireland in 1951, and most of his brothers were heavily involved. Anyway, one night Aussie called out to their house with a form he needed signed and saw my mother for the first time. Sounds corny but they fell in love. They were 14.

PK: Was your father a good fighter?

MC: He was crap. Everybody I know beat him. I remember saying to him once, 'Your record wasn't great, was it?' He said, 'Well, I was a better coach.' And that was it. You don't always have to be the best boxer to be the best coach. I'm a Carruth, but I'm a Humpston really. I'm not like my father. I'm the image of my mother facially and I suppose emotionally and everything else.

PK: What do you mean by emotionally?

MC: I'd be a bit fiery. She had a sharp tongue on her sometimes. She would never curse or be rude to people but if she wanted something she wouldn't be shy. The only thing I'd say I got from my father was his calmness when I fought.

PK: How did your father make a living?

MC: He was a carpenter, a good craftsman and grafter in general. He met my mother and told her they were going to get married and have ten kids - which was a bit brash I suppose at 14! They lived in Thomas Street for a while and then moved out to Greenhills and St Peters Road. But they ended up having ten kids.

PK: What was the order?

MC: Rebecca, Austin, Siobhan, Orla and then triplets - William, Martin and Michael, so I was the seventh born. Then Mary, Fergal and Robert.

PK: Terrace house?

MC: Terrace house.

PK: How many bedrooms?

MC: Three originally but there's four in it now. He built out (the back) as far as he could and up as far as he could. It was truly the Waltons. But there was 12 in the Nugents two doors down, and I think there was 17 in the Hennessys!

PK: You were the last of the triplets to be born?

MC: Yes.

PK: And you all boxed?

MC: Yes.

PK: And you were the most successful?

MC: Absolutely.

PK: Why do you think that was?

MC: It's a good question. Why did the three of us not win multiple All-Irelands? Why were the three of us not Olympic champions? Because we were certainly as good as one another growing up. Maybe it's the numbers? I was born in 196 St Peters Road. I was the seventh born; it was the seventh month; the year was 1-9-6-7. I have three sevens in my life, Martin and William don't. I wasn't the seventh son of a seventh son but maybe I was the chosen one?

PK: Were you the favourite son?

MC: Of Aussie?

PK: Yeah.

MC: Probably.

PK: From when?

MC: From the age of about 14 the two of us were inseparable. William and Martin had kind of gone in and out of boxing, but I was the one that stayed the path. It was always Aussie and Michael, Michael and Aussie:

"Where's da?"

"He's with Michael."

"Where's Michael?

"He's with da."

PK: So pretty special to share that ride to the top?

MC: I remember calling home from Italy after I had qualified for the Olympics in '92:

"Aussie?"

"Yeah."

"Where are you?"

"I'm in the kitchen."

"Do you know that bottle of champagne that's in the fridge?"

"Yeah."

"I'd open it if I was you."

'What!"

"I've just qualified."

You should have heard the scream out of him. He romped out into the living room and they're all sitting there and Martin and William said it was like that scene when I won the Olympics, except it was better because it was just the family.

They jumped all over the place. Then, a week or two later, there was another (phone) call to the house and my father came out of the kitchen scratching his head. "What's wrong with you?" I said. "They're after picking me (as a coach) for the Olympics." Well, I'm not telling you a word of a lie, but if you'd measured how far I jumped from the sofa into his arms, I'd have broken the world record! It just made everything so much sweeter to have him there.

2 The Forgotten one.

Unlike most of the fighters on show, there's no flamboyant entrance from Michael Carruth, no flag-dragooned guard of honour, no showboating, no garishly dressed cornermen and no bouncers flanking him, chewing gum, rolling their shoulders, and flexing their neck muscles. Just him, making his inconspicuous way to the ring, while large numbers of the disappointing 700-strong crowd are vacating their seats to get in their last orders at the bar before Naseem Hamed's fight starts.

Paul Howard,

Sunday Tribune

In November 1992, after two days of parading his medal at a corporate event in Cork, Carruth refueled at a local McDonalds and caught a train home to Dublin.

Three months had passed since the glory of Barcelona; he was getting fat, and restless and pining to fight again. Paula was against it, and wanted him to quit at the top, but the draw would prove too strong.

Fourteen months later, in February '94, he travelled to Sheffield for his first professional fight and had won six times by the end of the year. But an inexplicable loss in his next fight to a journeyman, Gordon Blair, set the tone for what followed. The magic bubble had burst and he never recovered.

His final fight was against Adrian Stone, a Bristol-born American-based fighter at Bethnal Green in London in April 2000. If Barcelona had been the ultimate dream, this was the ultimate nightmare.

PK: Talk to me about the end of your pro career. The month is February 2000, you've spent six frustrating years - 20 fights, two defeats - toiling in the shadows and you're offered one more chance to reach the summit.

MC: I needed a fight that put me back in Olympic mode. I was getting Mickey Mouse fights on Mickey Mouse shows; fighting at 12.0 in bleedin' London for promoters who didn't give a shite. I wanted a world title. I wanted to prove to everybody that I could win a world title and I got a crack at the WBC world title against (Javier) Castillejo from Madrid. I went to a training camp in Jersey to get ready. I was away from Paula and Leah (daughter) for two months. I put the work in and everything was good and then he pulled out ten days before the fight and it broke my fucking heart. I stopped training. I went into this . . . lacklustre mode and then they got me this other fight.

PK: Adrian Stone.

MC: Yeah.

PK: And you couldn't make the weight?

MC: I'd stopped training (after Castillejo).

PK: But you've taken this new fight? And you're back training and on the scales every day? How can you not make the weight?

MC: I'd lost the love of it at that stage, and my metabolism, unfortunately, was worse than others. My normal weight was 12 stone. I was boxing at ten-and-a-half. I had to lose a stone and a half (in 19 days)! On the day before the fight I was in the sauna for about three-and-a-half hours. My lips cracked trying to make the weight.

PK: Who was with you that night in Bethnal Green?

MC: Paula, all the boys (his brothers), my dad. He didn't want me to fight. They all begged me not to get in.

PK: You didn't listen?

MC: No, I felt it was my duty. I started ok and thought I was fighting pretty well until the fifth round when the dehydration kicked in. Aussie was in the corner. "You're not doing anything you're supposed to be doing," he said. I was disorientated. I didn't know my left from my right. "I'm pulling you out of this fight," he said. "I'm not bringing you home to your mother in a box." I said, "Okay."

PK: There was a spat with Frank Maloney (the promoter) in the dressing room?

MC: Yeah.

PK: He called you a disgrace?

MC: Yeah, and I fucked a chair at him. What did he want? I'd given everything I had? You don't attack a boxer just after he's been beaten but he started slagging me off and it got really heated. And that was it.

PK: What did you do that night?

MC: We left the arena and got a taxi back to the hotel but I wasn't in much of a mood for drinking or anything. I went to bed early and got a plane home and called a press conference a few days later and announced my retirement. It was off to pastures new. I had a load of different jobs and work places but I'm truly happy with what I'm doing now.

PK: You retired in April, 2000?

MC: Yeah.

PK: And this is . . .

MC: 2015.

PK: You've just described 15 years of your life in two seconds.

MC: Well, yeah, I got a couple of jobs and . . .

PK: You've spent about five hours talking about the Olympics and two seconds talking about the last 15 years!

MC: It wasn't a good time in my life. I had finished my sports career and thought another door would open but . . .

PK: They say sportsmen die twice - their sporting death and their natural death. During those last few months, when you had lost your love for the game, did you never think 'What happens next?'

MC: There was no contingency plan. I wasn't thinking about tomorrow, I was only thinking about today.

PK: Until when?

MC: Until my last fight, basically: When one journey finishes, another one starts. I've always loved that quote.

PK: And at the start of that journey, were you optimistic? Fearful?

MC: Well, to be honest with you, I thought I was going to walk into a job; I thought I was marketable and clever enough. I didn't know what that job was going to be or what to expect; I wasn't expecting a Jaguar and a Penthouse in New York, but I was expecting something.

PK: What did you get?

MC: I got a job after about a year with an insurance company, Acorn Life.

PK: Suit and tie?

MC: Yeah. They were based in Newlands Cross. I had an office and a laptop and it was okay for about a year until they asked me to sell policies. I was going from door to door selling life insurance and I absolutely fucking hated it. I said, "No, I'm not doing this." I left and kind of drifted along for a while doing after dinner speeches and my next job was with Martin in the shop.

PK: Your brother?

MC: Yeah, Martin's a floor layer. He had been working in a showroom in Dun Laoghaire and was talking about going out on his own and setting up on the Long Mile Road. So we started that together and two years later (2004) I opened my own shop (Michael Carruth Interiors) in Naas . . . well, I say my own shop but we were working together.

PK: Here's a quote: "Sometimes, when I'm sitting in my shop all day and it's lashing down rain on a Saturday afternoon, I wonder what all the other Olympic gold medalists are doing around the world. You say to yourself 'what did I do wrong?' I sometimes feel that I'm the forgotten man of Irish sport."

PK: Do you remember that?

MC: Yeah.

PK: That's how it felt?

MC: Yeah, and that's the perception because a lot of people have said it to me over the years: 'You're the forgotten man', or 'You weren't treated that well.'

PK: What happened with the shop?

MC: The recession was coming and we were starting to feel the pinch so we closed the two shops. It was hard on Martin - he'd had security (in his old job) before going out on his own. It was hard on me. I got a job as a sales rep with one of the carpet companies, Furlongs, but was let go after a year. Then I spent a year with Des Kelly, but they were feeling the pinch like everyone else and it was the same story, last in, first out. And I was unemployed for 18 months.

PK: When was that?

MC: From October 2008 to March 2010.

PK: Did you sign on?

MC: I wasn't going to. We were at a house party that Christmas and Paula said, 'Michael's been let go' to one of the girls. And this girl worked in (Social Welfare) and said, 'Go and sign on'. I said, 'I'm not signing on.' She said, 'Why not? You've paid your taxes. You're entitled to it.' And she convinced me to sign on.

PK: Where did you have to go?

MC: I had to go to this place in Kildare town.

PK: What was that like?

PK: I walked in with my head down thinking everybody was looking at me. I was embarrassed. Then I thought 'Why should I be embarrassed?' I had paid tax throughout my army career and my boxing career and when I was self-employed and the bottom line was that I was due what I was due. But it kills you a little as a man. I had always been the provider in the house and for those 18 months I wasn't. And it deflated me.

PK: Did it affect your relationship with Paula?

MC: I don't really get into fights. I wouldn't be huge on drinking and things like that. I don't suffer from depression and have tried to stay positive all my life, even when I was unemployed. I became a 'home' dad, making all the dinners and doing all the cleaning. Our house was gleaming, it was like the Taj Mahal! I remember Paula came home one day and said 'Michael, come here. You don't have to do this every day.' I said, 'I want to do it.' It was my way of contributing to the house.

PK: How was your father during that time? It can't have easy for him watching you struggle?

MC: I'm sure he was saddened for me: 'What kind of a country do we live in? Is this how we treat our sporting heroes? How can an Olympic champion be unemployed?' But my attitude was: The fellah next door to me is unemployed. Does he have two kids like me to support? He does. Does he deserve a job as much as I do? Of course he does. But I'm sure Aussie probably looked at it differently.

3 Aussie rules.

He calls one morning during the third week of October:

"How are you, Michael?"

"Not good."

"Joe Duffy?"

"Yeah, I'm getting dog's abuse."

"Are you in the club this afternoon?"

"Yeah."

"I'll drop out around 4.0."

"Okay, see you then."

The club is deserted. He makes some tea and we retire with two mugs to a small office that annexes the hall. Twenty four hours have passed since the fiery debate on Liveline about Billy Walsh's sudden departure as head coach from the IABA and he's still feeling bruised.

"It was not," he had insisted to Duffy," the end of the world. "Boxing will survive Billy Walsh. We are not going to fall down and die. Boxing can't be just about one person!" But three callers - Mick Dowling (the former boxer), George Lawlor (a friend of Billy's from Wexford) and Ray Devereaux (a boxing official from Cork) - had taken a contrary view. And the Joe Soaps were hammering him on Twitter.

"It's a fucking disaster," he says. "There's not enough clarity going on. Everybody assumes that because my brother (Fergal) is the CEO, I know everything that's going on."

"Yeah, but you walked straight into it," I counter.

"I didn't!" he protests. "I got a call from Liveline and they asked me to go on and I said 'Yes'."

"You should have said 'No'."

"Probably, but I wanted to put the two sides out there."

"You don't know the two sides."

"I know some parts . . . and neither does George from Wexford or Mick Dowling or that fellah from Cork."

"Mick Dowling is not the CEO's brother."

"That's true."

"That's where you walked into it. That's why you're getting the abuse."

"Yeah, but this shouldn't be viewed as a Carruth versus Walsh thing."

"No, but that's how it looks."

"Listen, do you know where I was last night when they asked me to go on Primetime? Here, training 70 kids. I got out of here at 9.0! I never thought Billy would leave. I wasn't privy to what was going on. I swear on my father's soul! Billy is my pal and Fergal is my brother. I'm not going to lose Fergal, but I don't want to lose Billy!"

Our conversation is interrupted by a crashing noise outside.

"Who's that?" he shouts, rising from his desk. He runs into the hall.

"WHO'S THAT?"

A minute later he returns with a smile on his face. "It's Aussie," he says. "He's giving me advice."

PK: So you're 18 months unemployed until March 2010 and you get this job as a development officer with the IABA. How was your father's health at that stage?

MC: He'd had a blip a few months before. I got a call from Junior (his eldest brother, Austin): "I think da is after having a heart attack." I went white and dropped the phone. We drove to Tallaght hospital and he was sitting on a trolley in the hallway but he was yapping away and looked okay. They did a couple of tests on him and let him home and probably missed what he had.

PK: So it wasn't a heart attack?

MC: No.

PK: And he was okay when he came out?

MC: He was fine for about a year and then - and this is going to sound crazy - he started looking old. Now he was in his mid-to-late 70s but he had lost a lot of weight, and was starting to look gaunt, and he wasn't coming down to the club. I said to him: "What's wrong with you?" Because it wasn't like him to miss the club. "Nothing. I'm just not feeling well," he says. He looked terrible at Christmas. I remember thinking: 'Jesus! This could be my last Christmas with him.' We got him to a doctor and he went in for tests and the inevitable came back: cancer of the bowel.

PK: So this is?

MC: January 2011. He went in for an operation and it had spread to his liver and suddenly things are more serious and we know he's on borrowed time. Twelve months, they say. It was like a kick in the head. I said, "Right, whether he wants it or not, I'm going to be with him in that house every day for the next 12 months until he dies."

PK: And did you? Were you with him every day?

MC: Yeah, for those first five days. Then I got a call from Fergal: "Come around to the house," he says. I knew that wasn't good. "He's got three weeks," he says. I drove home to Paula and broke down. The next day I went down to the house and gave him a hug. The doctor was there. "How long have I got?" he asked. "Did they not tell you in the hospital?" the doctor said. "Yeah, I'm only joking with you," he smiled.

PK: So he knew?

MC: He knew.

PK: How do you cope with that when you're looking at him?

MC: It's not easy. We thought he was gone a week prior to his death. I got a call that he had taken a turn for the worse and to get to the house. I ran in and gave him a hug and started crying. His voice was going. He told me not to leave the boxing club. "I won't da. I'll never leave it," I said. I can't believe it's four years since I last talked to him . . . well, I talk to him every day, I just don't get any answers.

PK: What do you mean?

MC: I ask questions of him, particularly boxing questions: 'Am I doing this right?' You pull your hair out sometimes with boxers, they let you down and let you down and let you down. But he gave me some great advice - the day you let them down they'll never forgive you. So that's why I'm here all the time.

PK: Have you ever gone back to Barcelona?

MC: Paula brought me back 20 years later. It was the weekend of my birthday, July 2012 so almost 20 years to the month.

PK: That was your first time to go back?

MC: Yeah, we'd gone to Salou on a holiday five or six years previously and were going to go then but I was sick with tonsillitis.

PK: How did you feel going back?

MC: I wanted to see it. I told Paula that it was one of the rougher suburbs in Barcelona but I wanted to bring her to the arena where I had boxed. But when we got the subway to Badalona it was locked. And there were a couple of drunks and some down-and-outs sleeping around it and it kind of dampened . . .

PK: It wasn't how you remembered it?

MC: No. There was no journalists or photographers or autograph hunters or Irish fans singing 'Where's your daddy from?' to Oscar de la Hoya.

PK: You didn't get in?

MC: No, I could see a fellah walking around inside and I banged on the door a couple of times but he wouldn't let us in. So we went back to the marina where the Olympic Village had been and I was able to show her a few things, our apartment, the canteen. There was a picture taken there of me and da on the morning after the fight with all the flags in the background. I found the spot where the photo had been taken and it hit me again that he was gone. And it really got to me.

PK: How are you now?

MC: In what regard?

PK: In every regard.

MC: Well, I look at Martin and William and we're 47 years old! We're the other side of where you want to be and that's the truth. In three year's time we'll be 50! I suppose the next part is, 'What do you want in your life?'

PK: What do you want?

MC: I've got most of it. I'm alive. I've got two healthy kids that drive me mad but I love them like my last breath. Paula and me are great. The boxing club is great. I want the white vest of Drimnagh to be feared again. I have a nice social life. I love my golf. (laughs) I'd like to have more money in my bank account.

PK: Are you happy?

MC: Totally. People say, "Ahh, you never got the recognition you deserved being Olympic champion." So what? You can't cry about it. And I'm never going to be bitter. I was the first Olympic champion boxer in this country and when I leave this earth I'll be remembered. I'm Michael Carruth, Olympic champion, and my name will never die.

Sunday Indo Sport

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