FOR most of us life has a fixed routine. You go to work then go home and enjoy what remains of the day with your loved ones. If you are lucky you enjoy what you do, if you don’t you enjoy the fruits of it. Some people, though, draw a line under their working day, catch some family time, and then go out to pursue their passion using their precious personal time, and all too often with little or no reward. In every small boxing gym up and down the country there are people working tirelessly to contribute to the sport. They do not feature on TV every few weeks, have to make sacrifices to strike the right life balance, and are fuelled by their passion. John Donaghy was one of those people.
Before and after a hard day’s work, he would head to Donaghy’s Boxing Gym in Preston to train the men, women and children who walked through its doors. He was one of the unseen, the grafters who quietly try to push the sport forward.
Sadly, Donaghy passed away a fortnight ago after suffering a fatal heart attack. He was only 44 and leaves behind a young daughter, Ava. He has also left a huge void in the lives of his family and friends.
Former fighter Kieran Farrell was one of the closest people to him. Donaghy was part of Farrell’s promotional company and got into the profession when Farrell asked him to get licenced and train Reece MacMillan yet their friendship went far beyond that. He told Boxing News that the sport has lost an unsung hero.
“It is hard to believe,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I hadn’t heard from him that day, which is unusual as we talk all the time, so thought I’d phone to catch-up. His voice sounded funny when he answered. I asked him if he was OK, and it turned out it was his brother and they were in the hospital.
“Because of his job — he does tarmacking and all that — you assume that he’d had an accident at work or done too much. That’s when Phil told me John had had a heart attack and passed away. You assume it is a sick joke. You can’t take it in.
“His girlfriend works at a nursery and had just got out of his car. She took the kids outside for five-minutes, noticed the driver’s door was still open so took them back inside and ran over, thinking something may have happened. That’s when she found him dead at the wheel. They tried to resuscitate him, but he was already gone.
“I didn’t even cry at first because I was in disbelief. I’d been on the phone to him the night before. He doesn’t drink or do drugs, is active in his life, so you can’t believe that someone like that can be dead.
“By the Friday, I was in the gym alone and just broke down in tears. Then you’re left thinking about whether you could have done anything, but you know there is nothing that can be done — he was gone. He’d been away with his daughter a week beforehand. He had a girlfriend he was very happy with. His whole life was on the up.”
Farrell had also encouraged Donaghy to get a whip’s licence. Everyone involved in boxing will tell you that they have the hardest job; actions speak louder than words, though, and the whips do a huge amount of work on fight night, as Farrell found out himself.
“I had to whip a few times for him when Reece was fighting. Wow, I was sweating my back out. I told him that until I’d done a bit of that I thought matchmaking was the hardest job. The whip is well harder. I thought: ‘This is no good for me!’. John was doing that, putting paving down, and handling stuff at the gym from 6am some days,” he said.
“He’d take his daughter to school and go about his day before being back at the gym. People tell me not to do too much, I was telling him the same thing, too — you never think that anything can stop you. We all need to make sure we look after ourselves.”
Life is all about the little things. A Challenge title win may not sound like a big thing in the age of multiple world titles yet for people like Farrell and Donaghy they mean the world. “The memory of John that sticks out for me is when Reece won the British Challenge light-welterweight title against Lee Connelly,” said Farrell.
“It felt like we’d won a world title. Those moments stay with you forever. It is a little thing, but we were also sat in Pizza Hut the other week, I was feeling a bit soppy and told John and Daryl that I was grateful to be with them sharing a moment. I was crying my eyes out when we are usually having a laugh.”
Farrell told me that Donaghy had a nice balance in his life: he had boxing and his family, and there are people in his immediate boxing circle who were more like family than friends.
“Everything thing John did was for his daughter. He was a great dad. The boxing was his own thing, we all need something in life, and he was doing what he loves. Look at his social media, it is all about living his dream every weekend. John was a top man who did me proud. He was one in a million and will be missed.”