BN: I recently watched an amateur fight between yourself and Lee Hogan. What are your memories of those early days in the sport?

MD: He took my undefeated record! I was 7-0 until that night. I finished with an amateur record of 22-7, I think. I come from a boxing family, but I was never allowed to box when I was younger. My Granda’ was an Irish champion and he fought with the likes of Rinty Monaghan. I was 18 when I left Belfast and moved to Jersey and boxing was one of the things I got into. It took me everywhere. Some great memories and one of them was fighting Lee Hogan. We became friends and we still are now after all these years.

BN: Coming from a boxing family was it inevitable it would become a big part of your life?

MD: One time I started running wee shows in my garden. I was getting all the other kids to fight, and I must have been eight or nine then. That must have been my first promotional experience. When I was 25, I decided it was a young man’s game. At that time in my gym Billy Schwer and Steve Collins were training. I was always busting to go professional, and I became really good friends with the Swifts, Wally and Tony. I was offered to go pro with their dad. By this time, I had started my own business, and it was going really well, and my old coach and mentor Dave Thompson MBE said to me, “It’s a hard, tough game. You’re doing really well in Jersey. To give all this up would be insane.” Then I was voted in as President of the Jersey Amateur Boxing Club. I was running shows all over the Channel Islands for a lot of years before I moved back home.

The recession was on, and things were quiet here. One of my old club mates was a guy called Gary Hyde, he managed [Guillermo] Rigondeaux at the time. He introduced me to a guy called Tony Dunlop, no relation. They asked me to look after James Tennyson. All James wanted to do was box professionally. I told him to go and get some more amateur fights and then he was picked to box for Northern Ireland in a multi-nations show in Portugal. He knocked all three out in the first round. I was waiting at the plane with a flag like Don King. He was my first signing. I was getting James a fight here and there, but I soon realised the only way he was going to progress was if I took out a promoter’s licence and stage shows. It all steam rolled from there. Right now, I’m the only licenced promoter in the north or south.

I keep saying this is my last year and then a good one walks into the gym and right now I’ve got a few of them. I enjoy doing the shows but out of all of the 200 shows I think once I made £250. That’s the truth. I don’t take money off them until they’re up there in the big fights and then all the money goes into a pot that helps bring through the next ones. It’s a passion for me, it’s not business and I think that’s what’s the secret of my success. I always say when you depend on something for a living, like being a promoter, then you have to be more cut-throat, and I wouldn’t be like that. I’m about giving kids opportunities and hopefully they’re gonna have a go. We all started this journey with the same dream, and they all do no matter what level they’re at. I give them all an opportunity to top a bill. If you look through my cards everyone has a wee go of being the bill-topper.

BN: What’s your thoughts on the state of the sport overall in Ireland?

MD: It’s very tough. I’ve always done my own thing and my own formula seems to work. If the fighters are good enough, they’re gonna get there, make good money, and nick a few belts along the way. Everyone’s behind me here because of my passion. I work with other promoters. I work with everyone, and I like to think I’ve got a good name. I’m trying to help everyone and to me that’s the way boxing should be. I’ve worked hard and got a small TV deal here with TG4. It’s taken me a long time to get there, and I’ve enjoyed working with them. All my shows sell out because they’re all good competitive fights with good young fighters.

BN: If you could pick your greatest and worst night in the sport, what would they be?

MD: The greatest night would have to be James Tennyson winning the European title because he wasn’t given a chance whatsoever. I knew that James was a powerful puncher and had seen Martin Ward fight {Anthony] Cacace and knew where James was at. I knew all James was needed was one shot. He was a devastating finisher, and he went out to wipe people out. That was my greatest night. It was such a big achievement. I’d also say Ronnie Clark beating Zelfa Barrett wasn’t far off that. That was a great victory because Ronnie was never taken seriously. Ronnie was his own worst enemy. He lived with me for two years and he was great. I was delighted for him. One of the disappointments was with Eric Donovan against Zelfa. Eric was an incredible boxer, and I knew he would box the head off Zelfa, and I’d known he was a better boxer than Ronnie, so I knew what it took to beat Zelfa. But then Eric got caught in the eighth round. It was devastating because it would have changed his life. But he fought back and ended up winning an EU title and he’s happy as Larry.

BN: Of the fighters you’ve got who is the next star in the making?

MD: I’ve got a flyweight who’s very good. His name is Conor Quinn. I put him in with a guy called Juan Hinostroza and a few fights prior he was the EU champion and then he also had a draw for the European title. Everyone was hyping Conor Quinn up, but I wanted to see it. He fought Hinostroza and it was one of the best fights I’ve seen. It was on the undercard of Mick Conlan against Luis Alberto Lopez. It was a brilliant fight, but Conor won nearly every round and it pushed him right up the rankings. It was a very good performance. He has an amazing story, and he can get to the top but there are steps and the next one is Chris Liddlell for the Celtic title on October 14. I’ve also got Colm Murphy. The guy’s like a professor. He’s unbelievable, reminds me of a young Eubank. Total eccentric. Another kid is John Cooney. Zero amateur experience but very, very dedicated and he’ll certainly get to British title level. Once you get that step and someone like a big promoter takes a liking to you then you can go all the way.

Interview: Shaun Brown