In a rather unique occurrence there is a very strong family link in the list of nominees for Friday week’s Donegal Sports Star Awards in two different categories.
Former Irish Super Heavyweight Boxing Champion Eamon Coyle will receive the ‘Hall of Fame’ award while his son-in-law Kevin McHugh of Finn Harps is one of the four nominees in the soccer section.
It will be a big family occasion for the extended Coyle family with Eamon delighted that he will be presented with his award by special guest the Irish Olympic Boxing Coach Billy Walsh while Kevin will have to wait until the night to see whether he is given the nod over Ciara Grant, Ryan Rainey and Barry McNamee in a very competitive soccer category.
McHugh is married to Eamon’s daughter Aine so it’s an exciting time for the family and sporting the public who will be watching with much interest to see where there will be a double success when MC Chris Ashmore opens the envelope to announce the soccer winner.
Eamon Coyle might have came to late to boxing but the Downings native quickly made up for lost time as in the space of just seven short years he reached the pinnacle of his career winning a Senior Super Heavyweight title at the National Stadium in 1982.
Remarkably he was 21 before he became actively involved in the sport joining the British Railways Club in the Dublin Docks after getting his first job with the Department of Agriculture in the Capital.
That was in 1975 and just four years later he won his first Irish title in the Junior Heavyweight Division. The national success earned him the 1979 Donegal Sports Star Boxing Award. By the time he reached the Senior Super Heavyweight Final in 1982 he had won two Ulster titles fighting out of Letterkenny Boxing Club under guidance of the legendary John McLaughlin.
It was a golden era for Coyle and those achievements have now earned him the 2012 Donegal Sports Star ‘Hall of Fame’ Award and it’s fitting that the presentation will be made by Billy Walsh.
Born in Magherabeg, Downings, Eamon Coyle developed an interest in boxing as a schoolboy despite there being no family history in the sport. And with no boxing club in the locality he didn’t take up the ‘fight game’ until he was 21. He went to boarding school at Holy Cross College in Falcarragh before continuing studies at Agricultural Colleges in Monaghan and Ballyhaise, Co. Cavan.
It was only when Eamon got his first job with the Department of Agriculture in Dublin that he grabbed the opportunity to get actively involved in amateur boxing. “I joined the British Railways Boxing Club in Dublin in 1975. At the time some of the big names in boxing were Christy McLaughlin who fought in the Montreal Olympics and Perry Riordan.”
After a couple of defeats at the National Stadium Eamon Coyle’s first big breakthrough came when he lifted the Irish Junior Heavyweight title in 1979 fighting out of Letterkenny Boxing Club. Two years earlier he had got a transfer back to the county to a job with the Department of Agriculture based at the Carrigans Meat Factory.
The legendary John McLaughlin was the coach at Letterkenny ABC and he quickly honed the obvious talent that the Downings man had into a winning formula that was to bring him unbelievable success over a seven year period. “John McLaughlin was there through all my time with Letterkenny Boxing Club. He was a great coach and a very good friend of mine from there on. John instilled the confidence in me to keep working and the success would come. Sadly he passed away a couple of years ago.”
Coyle first began to make his mark in the senior fight game in Ulster first winning a Super Heavyweight title against Coulter from Warrenpoint who had been the champion for a number of years. He made a bit of history in 1980 by being involved in the first ever UK Super Heavyweight Final which he won at the Ulster Hall in Belfast against a boxer from Carrickmore.
The high point of Coyle’s fight career came in 1982 when be became the Irish Super Heavyweight champion following a points win over a Mayo opponent. An attempt to repeat success failed in the following year and the new Donegal Sports Star ‘Hall of Fame’ winner says that like many other sports it’s a very difficult task to achieve back-to-back national titles.
“I lost the final the following the year. It is really is very hard to win a national title two years in a row. The Donegal GAA team will find it hard to win the All-Ireland this year. My goal initially was to win the Irish boxing final. I did that really there wasn’t the same interest when it came to trying to do it again.”
He decided to retire from the ring at the end of the 1983 season with the hunger having waned and also as a result of additional commitments with a young family and traveling to training in Letterkenny from Downings where he resided for a couple of years before settling in Raphoe. Work and farming interests had also left less time for boxing.
“After retiring I didn’t stay involved in boxing and that is one thing I did regret in later years. I have even been asked recently to do some work with the local club here in Raphoe.” However, any plans to do that were probably put on the back burner as Eamon had to battle his own health problems in recent years having treatment for cancer, which thankfully he has come through successfully.
As a result he took early retirement from the Department of Agriculture two years and now concentrates on his farming interests and looking after his grandchildren. Married to Teresa a native of Raphoe the couple have twin daughters Aine who is married to Finn Harps player Kevin McHugh and Mairead whose husband is Darragh Cox a sports presenter with Ocean FM the South Donegal and Sligo/Leitrim based Radio Station. Kevin and Mairead have two children Ella (5) and Odhran (2). Mairead and Darragh have a seven month old son Caolan. At the Mount Errigal Hotel on Friday week Eamonn Coyle will be picking up a Donegal Sports Star Award for the second time after a gap of 23 years.