14 September 2009 – By Mark Doyle
It is difficult to know where to begin when it comes to articulating a response to the news of Darren Sutherlands death on Monday afternoon. Tragic. Shocking. Devastating. Somehow those words just dont seem to adequately convey the overwhelming sense of loss.
I had the pleasure of twice interviewing Darren one on one. The first time was back in January, 2008. He had just returned to his dressing room after winning his third successive Irish Senior title by impressively outpointing Darren ONeill, with whom he enjoyed an enthralling rivalry but also a close friendship.
Dazzler, as he was affectionately known, was still buzzing and was only too happy to talk. He couldnt stop smiling either. This was hardly surprising, of course. Anyone Ive ever spoken to about Sutherland has immediately brought up his warm, bubbly and engaging personality. And that smile.
His enthusiasm on this occasion was slightly surprising in light of the fact that his post-fight interview had not been well-received by the fans in attendance. They had thought him arrogant. It was a common misconception amongst the Irish public that Sutherland was brash and cocky – he was anything but. That night he spoke of his admiration for ONeill both as fighter and a person. He was upset that people might have thought that his comments had been disrespectful to his Irish colleague but he knew that ONeill would take no offence as they were good friends. So there was no removing that smile from his face.
He was beaming again the next time we spoke, too. Ten months on from his Irish Senior title success and Sutherlands world had changed dramatically. In the interim, the St. Saviours fighter had won an Olympic bronze medal for his country in the Olympic Games in Beijing before deciding to turn professional.
His entry into the paid ranks came as no surprise, of course. His aggressive, heavy-hitting style was not best suited to computer scoring and besides, the pro game always represented unfinished business for Sutherland.
As a youngster he had trained in Brendan Ingles gym in Sheffield but became disillusioned with the sport and decided to walk away.
Happily, he returned to the ring whilst studying at Dublin City University. Such was his dedication that he would often rise at 3am to ensure a successful balance between his sports science degree and his boxing.
All the way through his hugely successful amateur career, though, he talked of returning to the professional game at some point. He knew after winning bronze in Beijing that it was a case of now or never so, after careful consideration of the many offers on the table, he signed a three-year deal with top British promoter Frank Maloney.
His first outing as a pro was to be at DCU and it was there that I got to interview him for a second time. The Sky cameras were present and he was a man in demand. Everyone wanted a piece of him and he must have done at least ten one-on-ones but he never grew irritable and apologised profusely for making me wait when we eventually got to talk.
He was smiling from ear to ear as he talked excitedly about embarking on a new chapter in his life and of his pride that his pro debut was to take place in front of so many of his family and friends. He was disappointed at having to take an extended break from his studies but was adamant that he would return to the course one day.
Darren was intent on doing whatever it took to become Irelands next world champion and for him that meant making sacrifices. It meant basing himself in London and perhaps, in hindsight, that was a mistake.
While Sutherland understandably thought that a life without outside distractions would aid his drive to reach the summit of the super-middleweight division, perhaps in moving across the Irish Sea all he did was cut himself off from his support base, inadvertently isolate himself from the family and friends who had played such a key role in his amateur career.
He clearly developed a strong bond with Maloney, who welcomed his latest boxing protg into his family home while the Irishman looked for a place of his own. Sutherland moved out earlier this year and maybe if he had stayed put, things would have turned out differently; maybe he wouldnt have felt so alone.
Sadly, there is now no point speculating on what might have been done to save Darren Sutherland. Perhaps nothing could have been done. Perhaps he was always fighting inner demons. Perhaps his greatest opponent was himself and one he was always destined to succumb to.
We will probably never know the truth, never know what was going through his mind, never know how a person who was so outwardly happy could be so desperately unhappy on the inside, never know why he felt that there was nobody who could help him, never know what made him feel that there was no other way out.
All we can say with any degree of certainty is that on Monday, September 14 an immensely likeable, intelligent and good-natured 27-year-old, who had already achieved so much in his life and appeared destined to achieve so much more, decided that he could not go on.
Ireland has lost one of its true sporting heroes but, more tragically, a mother and father have lost a son, and two sisters have lost a brother. It is with them that are thoughts should be at this moment in time.
Darren Sutherland: R.I.P. (1982-2009)