‘My sister said he was mad’: Crumlin goes crazy for Conor McGregor
In the brash fighter’s old stomping ground, many locals think the bookies have it wrong
Karl Duke, Shauna Murphy and Rhys Murphy at Bro’s cafe in Crumlin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
There are no Conor McGregor posters in the windows or Notorious MMA banners hanging over the streets of the Old County Glen estate in Crumlin where the fighter grew up. But there is a sense of anticipation reminiscent of the run-up to a big World Cup match in the shops and cafes along the Old County Road as the biggest night of McGregor’s fighting life approaches.
In the Old County Bar, Donal Ward and Matthew Sherry are watching what looks like an endless loop of Sky Sports promos for the fight. They have no doubt what’s going to happen, despite the bookmakers giving heavy odds against McGregor. Floyd Mayweather is old, they say, and the local hero is young, strong and smart.
“The bookies have it 100 per cent wrong,” says Sherry, who’ll be watching with friends on Sunday morning. “I think McGregor’s going to knock him out between the first and the fourth rounds.”
Both men will be staying up all night to watch the pay-per-view spectacle – the show begins at 4am Irish time, with the fight itself starting soon after 5am. “The place will be kicking. I’m going to my friend’s house to watch it,” says Ward. “Twenty five quid? It’s for nothing.”
McGregor and his entourage have been in the bar a couple of times over the past year, buying a drink for everyone in the house. “Five years ago he was training to be a plumber and now he’s going to be one of the richest sportsmen on the planet,” says Ward admiringly.
Across the street in the Old County Barber, Gavin Hayes is busy cutting hair. He explains that his boss, Craig Nolan, is in Las Vegas to shape McGregor’s distinctive cut – a skin fade with a hard parting. “Craig always cuts his hair,” says Hayes, who’s looking after a queue of customers in the busy barbershop. “He’ll probably do it today or early tomorrow.”
He pulls down the shop’s security shutter for our photographer, to reveal a floor-to-ceiling painting of the two fighters.
Sitting waiting his turn for a haircut, George Clarke says he’s looking forward to a busy weekend. He and his friends will be seeing dance music superstar Tiesto at the Vital festival in Belfast, then coming straight back down to Dublin to watch the fight. It sounds like a long day. “It’ll be a great day,” says Clarke. “I think he’s going to win, but he’ll have to win it on a knockout. If he goes the distance, the referees will choose the boxer.”
Up the road in The Salon, hairdresser Phil Hogan is not so sure when asked whether McGregor can win. “I hope so, but I don’t think so,” she says. “Ooh, she’s being controversial!” laughs her colleague, Deirdre Flynn. They both think one of the reasons it’s a little quiet now is because so many locals have headed for Las Vegas.
In Bro’s coffee shop, Carl Duke is also less confident. His football team are playing their first match of the season on Sunday morning so he won’t be pulling an all-nighter. “I’ll get up at five to watch and then go back to bed,” he says. “Obviously everyone would love him to win, but Floyd Mayweather’s been unbeaten for 21 years, he’s been in boxing since he was a child. Look, in a fight anything can happen. I’m not disregarding what Conor’s done and where he’s come from. Do I see him causing Floyd a few problems? Yes, I do.”
Rhys Murphy is the first person I meet who won’t be watching the fight. That’s because he’s seven years old and his mother insists he’ll be tucked up in his bed, despite some rebellious muttering about sneaking a tablet upstairs. “I’d like him to win but I don’t think he will,” says Rhys’s mother, Shauna, who grew up just down the road from the McGregors. “I didn’t know him personally but my sister did. She said he was mad.”
Dino Ivkovic, who runs Bro’s with his brother Bruno, will watch the fight with a small group of Crumlin friends. “We are going to stay up all night but we are going to behave ourselves because we are working in the morning,” says Ivkovic, who came here four years ago from Zagreb. “We’ll have three pints and three hours’ sleep. And I’m giving him a knockout in the third round.”
The brothers supported McGregor even before they came to Dublin, says Ivkovic. “UFC is very strong in Croatia, so we’ve been watching it for years.” I wonder what they think about the recent portrayal in the US media of Crumlin as a dangerous urban ghetto. “To be honest, when we were opening the shop, people were telling us stories, trying to scare us,” says Ivkovic. “But this is a very peaceful place. I think it’s just part of American marketing. Don’t get me wrong, not everything is flowers and leprechauns, but there’s none of that sort of pressure here.”
He’s enjoying the palpable excitement around the area. “Yeah, it’s mental. You can feel that atmosphere and positive energy before the fight. There is no better advertising in the world for Ireland right now than Conor McGregor.”