He'd been booked to spar and dad, his trainer, was a no show.
Sort of strange, but whatever. Patrick Hyland is a pro and he went through his paces at the gym. In his mind, he heard dad's signature phrase, “Keep yer fookin' hands up!” as he did rounds. Then, as he cooled down, the call came.
Unimaginable, had to be a sick and stupid prank.
Dad is dead, the caller told him.
“I thought someone was playing a joke or something,” said the fighter, days away from his opportunity to become the second Irishman to win a world featherweight title.
“There was nothing. No hints. He was 54.”
Dad (seen above at left with Patrick) liked to laugh. Described as a character, the son told me Paddy was one of the most outgoing souls you'd meet. But he also kept a secret, that he saw life through a dark lens.
Sadness, a lack of hope. Depression.
It gnawed at him and Paddy fought it like a champ.
Outwardly, nobody knew. Inside, the gloom hung over him, to the point he saw no alternative but to end the battle.
There were no hints.
“The happiest guy,” Patrick, one of three boys, told me as his Saturday night foe, champion Gary Russell Sr. chatted with press at a conference to hype their Showtime clash.
“Depression, man,” summarized the 31-1 (15 KOs) hitter born in Dublin, nicknamed “the Punisher.”
“It was a shock to everyone's system. Depression gets to them. Look at Robin Williams.”
After, but of course, the fighter wrestled with why. Dad had told the boys, get married and then have a kid, and Patrick had complied. Wife Lorna was due any day when Paddy Sr decided he could fight the darkness no more. “I was upset with him,” the 32 year old man, living by in Tallaght, told me. “A week later my son was born. A beautiful boy, a blessing to me.”
The son, who turned pro in 2004, needed to soldier on. His top backer left the scene but the fighting drive remained. He put energy into training, and four months after dad left, he entered the ring. In Massachusetts, on Oct, 10, 2015, Hyland (seen above during Wednesday presser) met 18-6-1 David Martinez. He'd trained hard, channeled some of his grieving to road work and sparring. “But I wasn't ready for it. After the first round, I looked to my left and I didn't see my dad in the corner. I didn't want to be in there.” He continued, and got a TKO8 win in eight rounds. And then he crumbled. Martinez, formerly a foe, grabbed him. “Your dad would be proud of you,” the loser told the winner. The two men talked, and Hyland cried. A “tear up,” the Irishman called it.
Dad wasn't one to process out in the open his emotions. The son knows the importance of doing so, and understands the value of sharing this story, even if it's not always comfortable putting it out there.
He knew he needed to cycle through a range of feelings. Which is why he visited dad's grave before his last fight. “I was annoyed,” he admitted. “I said to my dad, ‘You have a beautiful son! He looks like you! And I told him I would keep chasing my dream and make him proud, trying to become world champion.”
He dispelled the portion of him that was mad that dad left, of his own volition, prematurely. Patrick gets it now that the darkness overwhelmed dad, left him feeling that he had no other path. You won't see a fighter posting more pics of a wife (Lorna) and son (Callum) on Instagram than Hyland. So it seems he's making smart choices on what to focus on, and how to grieve, and honor Paddy.
The fighter has been helped along to reach this place of understanding by his promoter, Lou Dibella. The dealmaker (seen below)shared some of the emotion he's dealt with at the Wednesday press conference, and it became clear why he takes umbrage when a know it all boxing writer dismisses Hyland as a “C grade” boxer.
“His dad Paddy was a great guy, a great boxing guy,” said Dibella, while tearing up, at the lectern. “He'd been battling depression, unknown to a lot of people. He lost that battle. My brother lost that same battle.”
John. Age 25.
Lou is the oldest. Sisters Maria and Bettina remain. They know the complex tangle of emotions that Patrick spars with.
John had been in a skiing accident, and awoke from a coma with a changed personality. “Physically he was fine, but he was darker,” Dibella told me.
John then got hit by a car while he was walking down a sidewalk. During his recovery, he ended his life.
The promoter is immensely proud of Hyland and knows he's in tough versus the 26-1 Russell. Whatever the outcome, he knows Patrick wins with the message he's putting out, that it's ok and even preferred to seek help, talk to people, ask for aid. “There are always people that will listen, and there are scores of people with depression,” Dibella said to me. “I'm one of them. It's not gotten the best of me and I don't think it will.” Message: no shame in sharing that you struggle with emotions and feelings sometimes.
Dibella had called the boxer soon after Paddy's decisive act and shared his personal pain. Hyland got teary, and then made a plea:
Lou, I want to fight the best.
The promoter, along with Showtime boxing boss Stephen Espinoza, made it happen. Russell owns blazing hands and is seen by all outside of the Hyland camp as the favorite to retain his belt. But Hyland tells me he has plans to flip that script.
“I know I'm an ‘A' fighter. I know no one has seen me at one hundred percent and I have shown 75 percent of my best. And will dad be watching? I know he'll be watching. And I know I will hear a voice in the crowd, ‘Get yer fookin' hands up!”