THE boxing community is in mourning at the news of Saints ABC stalwart Harry Cunningham Snr's passing following a battle with Covid-19.
Dubbed 'Mr Saints', Harry served as Vice-President of the Co. Antrim Board and was involved in the sport for over 60 years of his life as a boxer, coach and administrator.
Harry began his boxing journey with the St Matthew's club in the Short Strand before moving onto Saints in Twinbrook as head coach and also served as treasurer.
His son, Liam, won silver at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, with Harry Jnr claiming silver in the same year at the World Junior Championships and under Harry Snr's guidance the following year, they became the first brothers in three decades to win Ulster and Irish Elite titles in the same year. He was also involved in training many champions from Antrim to Irish level and was involved as a coach with Irish teams over the years.
Harry was honoured for his services to boxing by the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) earlier this year having been at the forefront of boxing in Belfast and beyond. The esteem he was held ensured that he was able to arrange for Co. Antrim teams to travel across Europe for tournaments, ensuring young boxers got the opportunity to see the world and develop their skills - a role that will be almost impossible to fill according to Co. Antrim President, Paddy Barnes Snr.
"Harry was one of a kind," said Paddy.
"He is a legend in boxing and an absolute gentleman. He would always fight his corner and do the right thing by the sport and the boxers. I don't know what we will do in the Board without him. As a person, he was absolutely fantastic.
"When my Patrick (Jnr) was training down in Ardglass as a kid, we were welcomed into Harry's club to train as well with no questions asked. He was just a father figure to us all.
"Boxing will never be the same without him. On the Board, somebody will have to take the role, but nobody will ever fill his place."
Tributes have flooded in from across the boxing community when the news was relayed by Harry's son, Liam, earlier today.
In a post on the Saints ABC Facebook page, he wrote: "It is with a very heavy heart we bring you the news that Saints Boxing Club and Co Antrim Board stalwart Harry Cunningham has passed away suddenly after contracting Covid-19. As we know, this is a killer virus folks, please think of your loved ones and stay safe. 'Mr Saints' himself will be dearly missed not only by his club but throughtout the whole boxing fraternity."
Clonard ABC also reacted to the news with a tribute to man considered a legend of the sport. They wrote: "Devastating news today and deepest condolences to the Cunningham family and Saints Boxing Club on the loss of their father Harry, a real gentleman and a real boxing legend. He will be missed by all at Clonard Boxing Club and especially for all the opportunities he gave our boxers over the years. R.I.P. champ."
Star ABC in North Belfast echoed the tributes and said Harry's loss will be keenly felt: "Our great friend Harry sadly passed away in the early ours of this morning. We had many of great times over the years and you will be sadly missed by all at the Star."