Barrett travels a hard road

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The Independent Online

Francis Barrett was the most popular boxer in the Atlanta Olympic tournament in 1996. Then just 19, he was the youngest member of the Irish team, carried the tricolour at the opening ceremony and was the first traveller to represent the Republic at the Games.

Francis Barrett was the most popular boxer in the Atlanta Olympic tournament in 1996. Then just 19, he was the youngest member of the Irish team, carried the tricolour at the opening ceremony and was the first traveller to represent the Republic at the Games.

However, after setting an Olympic record of 32 points in his opening victory, Barrett was eliminated in the quarter-finals and returned to the caravan site in County Galway where he was born. "It was hard adjusting to normal life after all the publicity," he said.

Now Barrett has finally agreed terms to turn professional and will make his debut on Saturday at the Wembley Grand Hall, not far from his present home, another caravan site behind the Ikea store in Harlesden, north London.

After the Olympics, Barrett was determined to stay amateur and refused several offers of between $50,000 (£34,000) and $100,000 from American promoters.

In 1997 he won the English Amateur Boxing Association welterweight title and that was the start of his turbulent relationship with the sport's governing body in his native Ireland.

Barrett has 12 brothers and sisters, many of whom live with him in London, but some of his brothers and cousins still box for Olympic Galway back in Ireland. Six years ago, Barrett and members of his family dragged a shipping container that had washed up on their local beach up a steep hill to their caravan site in Galway and converted it into their own private gym.

"This year for the Olympics I was not selected for any of the qualification tournaments, so I was left with no choice but to go pro," said Barrett, who only agreed terms with the promoter Frank Warren four weeks ago.

In 1998 Southpaw, a film about Barrett's life in Galway and his passage to the Atlanta Olympics, was released worldwide to enthusiastic reviews but in the same year the boxer almost died in a frenzied knife attack. Barrett, then aged 23, suffered cuts to his back, neck, arms and thumb that required 50 stitches and he spent time in hospital alongside his father, who suffered a stomach wound. He said: "It was just idiots trying to get me into a bare-knuckle fight but I told them I'm an Olympic boxer and one day I will be world champion."

Before signing with Warren a new offer arrived from the American promoter Lou Duva, but Barrett, who, ironically, does not travel very well, wanted to fight in Britain and Ireland because of the support he has received here throughout his career.

A fight in Boston, where Southpaw was a huge success, is scheduled for the spring. "I grew up watching Barry McGuigan and Steve Collins and there is nothing quite like the pride of watching an Irish boxer win a world title. I want that feeling, I really want it," Barrett said.

* The British Boxing Board of Control hearing into Mike Tyson's conduct in Glasgow on 24 June, when he threw punches at Lou Savarese after the fight had been stopped and made contact with the referee, has been adjourned to a later date.

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