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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 12:48 GMT
Star who shone in the boxing ring
Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson was listening to the fight in South America
Holywood superstar Liam Neeson, a former Ulster amateur senior boxing champion, has been talking about the sport he loves.

Ballymena-born Neeson said he began boxing at the age of nine.

"I liked it and then I ultimately fell in love with it because I loved the training," he said.

"Our club was called the All Saints Club and I'm very proud to say that within a few short years, it became one of the major clubs in Ireland.

"I was an OK boxer, I wasn't great, I was OK, but I loved the discipline of getting together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, usually Saturday afternoons too, with a whole bunch of mates and training, very, very hard for about two-and-half hours."

Neeson says that legacy of his early days in Ballymena has remained with him and to this day he keeps himself "very physically fit".

During an interview for BBC Northern Ireland's Season Ticket programme, he said his love of boxing had helped in his acting career.

"It taught me something about having a sense of discipline, no matter what your chosen profession is going to be, kind of never saying die, always getting up and going.

"If I get rejected for a part, I pick myself up and say, OK, not today, maybe tomorrow I'll get this other part or something.

"I know I got that determination from those early days boxing."

He recalled following the career of his friend, Barry McGuigan, even while filming on location.

barry mcguigan
Barry McGuigan won the title in 1985

Neeson, however, was unable to attend one of McGuigan's most exciting bouts when he defeated Eusebio Pedroza in London in 1985 to become world featherweight champion.

He said he had bought his father a ticket for the fight "as a surprise".

"My father had never flown in an aeroplane before," he said.

"He lived in Ballymena with my mum, so I arranged all this with my mum and sisters.

"The day before, my father would be given tickets to go over and see the fight."

Neeson was tied up with filming the Mission in Colombia, South America, but, along with fellow actor Ray McAnally, was listening to the fight on the radio.

"I remember Ray McAnally, God rest him, and myself were in this church, which was part of our set in Colombia, because we were playing Jesuit priests," he said.

"It was between the set-up of a scene and we were listening on the World Service to Barry's fight."

Between the twelfth and thirteenth rounds, the pair were called to the outside set to film a scene.

"Being the professional actors we were, we left the radio down and went out and did our acting.

"We must have been out there for half an hour and itching to know what the outcome of the fight was."

He said camera and lighting technicians working in the church had been listening to the radio.

When Neeson and McAnally finished the scene, the workers told them: "Sorry, guys. Your guy, Barry, he lost".

"We were totally dejected. They kept this going for about two hours," Neeson said.

"Then of course, when we wrapped for the day, they told us the truth. Ray McAnally and I just went ballistic."

The Fighting Irish, BBC One Wednesday, 2310 GMT.

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