Boxing

Seconds Out: Kristina O'Hara hopes to announce return in victorious fashion

Kristina O'Hara made her Irish elite championship debut two years ago and makes her return to the big stage again next month
Picture by Hugh Russell

KRISTINA O’HARA will make her return to top level Irish boxing next month - and the west Belfast pocket rocket believes she is coming back better than ever.

O’Hara swept the boards in the underage ranks and was seen as an outside bet to challenge for a place at last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio.

Destiny, however, has taken her a different direction. After coming up short against the experienced Ceire Smith in her first national elite championships at the start of 2015, O’Hara decided to change tack.

Instead of continuing to learn on the job at senior level, O’Hara and her coach at St John Bosco, Gerard McCafferty, agreed they needed to take a year away from competition.

Now, almost two years since making her Irish elite bow, the new and improved Kristina O’Hara is back for another crack at the big time when the Irish elites begin next month.

“After I fought in my first seniors I knew the stage of the game I had to be at,” she said.

“I was only 18, I wasn’t mature enough, so we decided we’d take a year, build up my strength, change our routine, our tactics, everything. I missed the seniors last year, I wasn’t taking a break - I was still doing my training, my running, my dieting but I was doing everything properly this time.

“I’m very comfortable with where I’m at. I wasn’t always mentally prepared going into fights but everything’s just completely changed. It’s a new year, it’s not a good idea for me to miss another championship. Time has gone by really fast, I remember that fight two years ago like it was yesterday.”

The time between hasn’t been without challenges though. A job as a carer at the Louisville nursing home in Belfast has seen O’Hara add an army of new supporters, but 12-hour shifts several times a week means serious discipline is required to fit boxing in and stick to her daily routines.

By hook or by crook though, she has made it work and her picture still adorns the wall at Louisville four months after her successful return to the ring at the Celtic Cup in Dungarvan.

“I’ve never met a nicer bunch of people in my life,” she says with a smile.

Recalling her performance against Donna Barr in the 51kg final of the Celtic Cup also leaves O’Hara beaming from ear-to-ear: “People were coming over saying it was the best they’d seen me box because I was sharp, fit, in a much better place mentally,” she continued.

“Two years ago boxing was all I did. I lived, breathed and slept it, but the year I took out showed me that boxing was what I wanted. It gave me the hunger I needed.

“It was difficult at times, don’t get me wrong. The hardest part was people asking what I was doing with myself, where I had been. After watching the Olympics, I was thinking ‘I should’ve been there’. It motivates you - you have to take the positive out of it. Now, I’m thinking that the next time the Olympics come around, I’m going to be on the team.”

O’Hara’s return has an element of good timing too. Just three weeks ago, boxing’s world governing body AIBA confirmed that female elite and youth boxers will fight for the first time over three three-minute rounds, rather than four two-minute rounds.

This is music to the Belfast woman’s ears: “That suits me down to the ground,” she said.

“When you have four two-minute rounds, people tend to avoid you. It’s harder for them to avoid you for three minutes. There’s only so many times they can go from corner to corner.

“When people slow down I speed up, so this is good news for me.”

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Dr Sean Donnelly is presented with his lifetime service award by boxers Paddy Barnes, Sean McComb and Michael and Jamie Conlan
Picture by Mark Marlow

LONG-SERVING doctor Sean Donnelly was presented with an award for lifetime service to County Antrim boxing at Saturday night’s amateur show at the Devenish Complex in west Belfast.

Professional boxers and former amateur stars Paddy Barnes and Michael and Jamie Conlan, as well as two-time Irish lightweight champion Sean McComb, were on hand to make the presentation to man who has given so much to boxing through the years.

Normally working away quietly behind the scenes, Dr Donnelly famously hit the headlines at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada.

Before the middleweight final, Jim Webb asked Donnelly if he would sing Danny Boy at the medal ceremony if the Holy Trinity fighter landed gold.

Webb fulfilled his part of the bargain, with Donnelly doing likewise, providing one of the iconic images of the Games as the victorious Webb was reduced to tears on top of the podium.

It was a magic moment in Irish boxing history and it was fitting that Donnelly was present last Saturday night as some of the stars of the future showed what they can do in the County Antrim v Rivertown, Cork match-up.

After a marathon 19-bout session, County Antrim emerged victorious 9-8, with two exhibitions. Scores were level at 8-8 going into the bill-topper, which was due to feature the rematch between St George’s ace James McGivern and Rivertown’s Eamar Coughlan.

Coughlan got the better of the Belfast boy at last year’s national U18 championships and McGivern was keen to gain revenge, but unfortunately the Rebel county teenager was forced to withdraw with a cold.

McGivern instead fought late replacement Jack Kelly from Dublin’s Cherry Orchard club, with the St George’s man putting on a stellar performance to force a second round stoppage. He now goes into the Irish U22s full of confidence.

Another standout performer from Saturday’s action was Gleann light-welter Caoimhin Ferguson, who outboxed the strong Jack Pelan. The other victories for Antrim came from Ben Ferran (Clonard) at 66kg, Jojo McArdle (Ligoniel) at 52kg, Gary Arthurs (Gleann) at 60kg, Sionnan McKenna (Holy Family) at 54kg, Morgan McNulty (Rathfriland) at 52kg, Kyle McGreevey (Holy Trinity) at 37kg and Nathan Harrigan (Scorpion) at 39kg.

Liam Ward (All Saints'), Sean Kearney (Clonard), Georgins Lavery (Rathfriland), Olivia Grant (Carryduff), Mia Neill (Canal), Lee McKee (Star), Frank Duffin (All Saints') and Tiernan Duffy (Clonard) all lost out despite some superb performances.

A busy period for county Antrim boxing continues this weekend with the first of the novice championships weighing in at Girdwood Hub from 9am-10am on Sunday, with boxing taking place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hub to decide the Antrim 3s.

Elsewhere, the county Antrim board’s first monthly meeting of the new year takes place in the Dockers' on Tuesday at 8pm.

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