THE visit of a Canadian boxing team to Strabane has already given tonight’s tournament in the Fir Trees Hotel and Saturday’s in the Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown, an international flavour, but the organisation of the event is a truly global tale.
The chief instigators of the clash between the visiting Lonsdale Club and a Tyrone and Fermanagh Select squad, are Tyrone and Fermanagh County Board president, Ben McGarrigle and Canadian coach Frank Fiacco, who are both international standard referees and judges and travel the world officiating at the top echelons of the sport at amateur level.
The idea for the team from Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, to take on their Irish opponents was initially floated over a cup of coffee in Honduras, the details were ironed out in Germany and the finalised while both were officiating at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia!
In between times, the Tyrone/Fermanagh Select squad have been to Canada to take on their Regina rivals and this visit is the return leg.
After arriving in Ireland on Monday morning, the Canadian team were taken to their base in Strabane before undertaking a short training session at Two Castles Boxing Club in Newtownstewart on Tuesday followed by a visit to the Giants Causeway that afternoon.
And that experience on the north coast is mostly what this trip is about, expanding the horizons of the youngsters involved.
“This is not just about the boxing, it’s about giving them a life experience,” Mr Fiacco explained.
“The more we travel, the more we learn and that’s the case for these kids – many of them had never been out of their own province before and for some of them it’s the first time they’ve ever had to apply for a passport.
“This started as a dream over a cup of coffee and it developed very quickly into making the dream come true.
“We have two kids as young as 11, a 13 year old girl and the rest are older, some of the parents have come over too and they have been in awe of the scenery since they got here.
“It’s been good, it’s been an eye-opener in many ways and the hospitality has been second to none.”
The organisation of the event hasn’t been without issues, though.
A fire at the Fir Trees Hotel on October 22, which McGarrigle attended in a professional capacity as a member of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, caused accommodation problems, but Ben and his fellow Tyrone and Fermanagh County Board members have worked hard to ensure Strabane was able to host their first international boxing event since a Finnish team took on Ulster in St Pat’s Hall in 2006.
Each of the tournaments promises to be a night not to be missed as the Canadian visitors get to take on the best local pugilists, including European and World bronze medalist, Jude Gallagher.
The Tyrone/Fermanagh Select team tonight will be managed by McGarrigle, while John Gallagher is match-maker. Tickets, priced at £10 each are available from Ben (07721898790), Ronan (07873138478), John (07793804819) and Aideen (07840037162).
Tonight’s action is scheduled to get underway from 8.30pm.