Leona O'Neill: Conor McGregor or Hugh Russell? I know who I'd rather my son looked up to

Since I let it be known that I'm not Conor McGregor's number one fan, my own son has taken up boxing – which is fine by me, though I would prefer him to idolise old-school fighters, rather than rude, disrespectful ones, writes Leona O'Neill

Olympic medallist Hugh Russell and his mother Eileen at the Ulster Hall in 1983 after Hugh – these days a respected photographer with The Irish News – won a British Bantamweight title fight

LAST week I had a pop at Conor McGregor for his somewhat bad attitude and stated I didn't think he was a good influence on my son.

I may as well have declared I had become a fully fledged devil worshipper, had set up a Derry branch of the Nazi party and was putting out a call for new members to join me in my endeavours to erect burning crucifixes on the front lawns of pensioners in the local area.

I knew it wouldn't go down well and I wasn’t really surprised by the feedback which ranged from wholeheartedly agreeing with me to a barrage of McGregor-esque insults from those who idolise him.

Despite the strong, at times colourful, arguments in his favour, I'm still not 100 per cent sure that the 'f*@k you' saying, 'f*@k you' suit wearing, money flashing, people bashing, arrogant wee man from Dublin is a good role model for my kids or yours.

Up to this point my son's heroes have been footballers.

He's been playing since the game he was seven years old and has looked up to stars such as Messi, Beckham and Drogba.

Now he has decided to move into a new field of sport. He joined a boxing club last week and took to the sport like a duck to water.

As a mum I'm not too keen on him fighting. I don't like aggression and I particularly don't relish the notion of someone hitting my baby boy in the face. But it's his choice.

As he had his hands bandaged up and gloved I thought about how much my son and his friends idolise McGregor and absorb his antics. I hoped that he wouldn't be too influenced by his behaviour. But I looked around the gym at his soon-to-be new idols staring down from pictures on the walls at the boys coming up behind them.

Among them were Charlie Nash and John Duddy, both fierce in the ring but more humble and nicer guys you're not likely to meet outside it.

And I remembered Carl Frampton and the excellent role model he is. And I thought of our very own Olympic medal winning Hugh Russell, a formidable boxer but a kind, funny, absolute gentleman beyond those ropes.

And I remembered the picture of Hugh hugging his mum after he won, his face all busted up and her crying with a mixture of pride and relief that her precious son was OK.

And I thought, he'll be OK. My boy will have his heroes.


WEARING pyjamas in public often provokes debate but Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke is challenging people to do just that for a very special charity walk on Saturday September 30. The charity is hosting a 5k walk which it hopes will act as inspiration for people across Northern Ireland to remain in their pyjamas to raise money for the fight against heart disease.

The Wake Up 5k Pyjama Walk, supported by MACE, is being held at Stormont Estate and starts at 9.30am. It is part of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke’s ‘Wake Up!’ campaign which highlights the shocking fact that heart disease remains the biggest killer in Northern Ireland and indeed has been for the past 25 years.

There’ll be plenty of fun family entertainment in the form of face-painters and balloon modelling and a very special brunch for all participants post event. The route around Stormont is buggy and dog friendly, so all the family can take part. However, the route may not be slipper-friendly, so don’t forget to change into your outdoor shoes!

The Wake Up Pyjama Walk starts at 9.30am on Saturday September 30. Everyone is encouraged to bring family and friends, their kids and even the dog, all wearing their favourite PJs to enjoy a 5km morning walk with entertainment, music and a tasty brunch at the finish! To sign up visit

Entry is just £10 per adult (under-16’s go free). All proceeds go to Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. For more information on the Wake Up!

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