Fearghus Quinn not fazed by the rise and rise of old foe Conor Wallace
FOR the past year, Fearghus Quinn has had to hit to sit back and watch as Conor Wallace's star ascended into a different stratosphere.
After reaching the final of the Irish elites at the end of 2015, MMA superstar Conor McGregor asked Wallace to be his chief sparring partner ahead of his rematch with Nate Diaz and, all of a sudden, his face was everywhere.
Pictures emerged seemingly on a daily basis of Wallace in the octagon with McGregor, while he was also in the corner the night ‘The Notorious' toppled Diaz.
Quinn would have been forgiven watching on with jealous eyes.
After all, a month before Wallace was defeated by Michael O'Reilly in the Irish elite final, Quinn beat him in the Ulster elite decider in Newry.
Indeed, of their six career meetings so far, Quinn has got the nod in five.
Speaking on the eve of the 2017 Irish elite championships, which get under way in Dublin tonight, the 20-year-old from Camlough takes a mature view of his rival's breakthrough year.
“Everyone's entitled to their opinion,” he said.
“I've beat him five times and I know I'm well capable of beating him but I suppose you can't take anything away from him.
“He did well in the Irish seniors last year and he's obviously doing well, so fair play to him. If people see him as the man to beat that's fair enough, it is what it is.
“I'm not really too bothered to be honest. The competition is high this year but I'm going in knowing I'm capable of beating any of them.”
All round sportsman Quinn has been juggling boxing training with Gaelic football in recent weeks, having featured for Queen's University during the Dr McKenna Cup.
Having previously played for Armagh minors, he is hoping to be involved with Peter McDonnell's U21s this season, with the ultimate aim to catch the eye of Orchard senior boss Kieran McGeeney.
For now though, it's all about making an impression at his second national elites having dropped a split decision to the talented Johnny Joyce last year.
“The preparation's going well,” said the finance student.
“Before Christmas I sparred Alfredo Meli, he had a fight coming up, so it was good to get a few tough rounds in. He has a very high work-rate, it's incredible, and that's good for pushing me on and getting the fitness up.”
Even without O'Reilly, still awaiting sanction following the drugs test that saw him sent him from Brazil before the Rio Games, the middleweight division is stacked full of talent this year.
In the mix along with Wallace and Quinn are Holy Trinity banger Caoimhin Hynes, the stylish Joyce and his St Michael's, Athy club-mate Roy Sheahan.
The return of four-time Irish elite champion Sheahan to the 75kg scene is an intriguing twist, as it is 15 years since he burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old, losing out to Dungiven's future European champion and World title challenger Paul McCloskey in the welterweight final.
Now 32, and having won the light-heavyweight title two years ago on the back of just four weeks training, he is a live contender.
Elsewhere, Holy Trinity's Sean McComb enters his first tournament as a fully fledged light-welterweight, bidding to take the 64kg crown from Dean Walsh, while Omagh's Tiernan Bradley has jumped up to welter.
Bradley lost out to McComb at lightweight in his first Irish elites, and takes his place in a competitive-looking 69kg division that also includes Rio Olympian Steven Donnelly, Oakleaf's Brett McGinty and Holy Family's Aidan Walsh.
Walsh's sister Michaela makes her return to the ring in the 57kg division, while the battle to be crowned Irish lightweight queen – following Katie's Taylor's switch to the pro ranks – is headed up by Dublin's Kellie Harrington and Shauna O'Keefe.