The night Paddy shared Croke Park with Ali

Ballyshannon man Paddy Doherty recalls his meeting with "The Greatest"

The night Paddy shared Croke Park with Ali

The much mourned death of Muhammad Ali last weekend has prompted so many people to recall the first time they heard his name, heard him speak or watched Ali box.

But, for one former Olympic and Commonwealth Games boxer, Paddy Doherty from Ballyshannon, it brought back very clear and special memories of when he met and boxed on the same night as "the Greatest."

Doherty, now 68, was, in 1972, at the peak of his boxing powers when he was invited to box at Croke Park on the undercard to Ali v Al 'Blue' Lewis fight.

That was the first time he met him, but he boxed on the same bill as Ali on two occasions, the first a little earlier than Croke Park, at the Albert Hall, London in 1971.

"In London I hadn't any contact with him, other than to be on the same card, but Croke Park and Dublin was different," recalls Paddy.

"I spoke to him at the weigh-in at the Gresham Hotel and he was non-stop, talking and cracking jokes, pulling faces, all the 'Ali stuff'. He was an entertainer out of the ring but in the ring he was just a different class.

"After my fight I was allowed to sit close to ringside to watch his bout with Lewis.

"Lewis was a former sparring partner of his, so they knew each other well.

"Ali could have finished the fight any time he wanted, to be honest, but he stopped him in the 10th round of a 12 x 3 minute round contest."

Paddy says he could hear Ali talking away during the fight: "He never stopped, he was having fun with him and he seemed to be floating when he moved."

Doherty won six All-Ireland and seven Ulster titles; he boxed 14 times for Ireland.

He also boxed for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in Edinburgh in 1970.

Doherty was an automatic choice for the 1972 Munich Olympics but decided to turn professional two months before the Games, recalling "I needed the money."

In Croke Park, Doherty was due to box 6 x 3 minutes rounds against a Swansea opponent, Bobby Rough.

The middleweight contest was stopped in the fourth round when Paddy's famous left hook knocked his Wales opponent out.

Much has been made of what Ali was paid for his bout with Lewis. Matchmaker Mickey Duff, who Doherty remembers running around the place waving and shouting, was a shrewd businessman.

£400

Doherty says he was told and he got between £60,000 and £70,000 for his 10 rounds.

And Paddy?

"I was paid £400 - a lot of money in 1972 - but by the time we left Dublin I had a £100 left; everyone else had to get their cut too."

Thinking back to the night, he says: "It was a warm night, just a bit like the weather we're having lately. My wife, Leia, was there and the only other Ballyshannon person I know who was at the bout was the late Paddy Meehan of the Bridgend, who trained me when I was an amateur."

Doherty has so many memories of many great nights, but there is a sense of what might have been too.

Without thinking, he touches a scar on his left hand. It runs five to six centimetres either side of a wrist watch. That scar unlocks a story. In 1973, while working at Cathaleen's Fall ESB Station, a large stone he was moving rolled back and broke his scaphoid bone in his left hand.

That injury ended his boxing career. Costly in so many ways, but like so many other blows, Paddy took it on the chin.

Since then Paddy has trained dozens of boxers, his name is well known in boxing circles and his night in the same ring as Muhammad Ali reserves for him a special place in Irish boxing history.

The last word is left to Paddy: "Ali was a great ambassador for boxing and sport in general. He stood up for himself outside and inside the ring, a bit like myself, but he did it with real class and style. As time goes by I still smile to myself when I recall how he tapped me on the head as he went into the ring. You can't buy that!"