Boxing

Sean McComb hoping to follow on from Belfast boys by starring on the international stage

Three-time national elite champion Sean McComb, who is part of the Irish squad training at Jordanstown this week, is determined to make his mark on the world stage this year. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

HE’S the last of the original Belfast boys at the Irish High Performance unit, and Sean McComb is determined to replicate the success of his friends and former team-mates by making his mark on the world stage in 2017.

When McComb first started travelling to Dublin, Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Tommy McCarthy welcomed him with open arms.

Times have changed and, from being one of the newer faces at the High Performance, McComb is now one of the team’s elder statesmen at the age of 24.

“It’s not the same atmosphere any more, nowhere near it,” admits the Holy Trinity stylist, who is part of the Irish squad training at the Ulster High Performance unit in Jordanstown this week.

“I was always the newcomer - the team hadn’t changed in so long with all the guys who had been there long before me.

“I settled in very well because of Mick, Paddy and Tommy, they made me feel welcome and the friendship just grew from the first week I was down there. The atmosphere always revolved around us four.

“Now it’s me, Joe Ward and Darren O’Neill who have probably been around the High Performance the longest. This time two years ago I was one of the least experienced on the team.

“This time last year I wasn’t even on the team to go to an Olympic qualifier…”

McCarthy turned over to the paid ranks midway through the last Olympic cycle, while disappointment in Rio signalled the end of Barnes’s glittering amateur career.

Following his controversial exit from the summer Games, Conlan was snapped up by American promoters Top Rank and made his high-profile pro debut at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day.

McComb made the trip over to the Big Apple to support his friend and was blown away by the hype that has surrounded Conlan so early in his paid career.

He said: “The atmosphere was electric - it was like the Falls Road. The whole of west Belfast was there. Everybody I spoke to there, I knew.

“The whole weigh-in, the press conference, everything about it was massive. It was like a world title fight.”

Having also been in the crowd watching Barnes and close pal Jamie Conlan at the Waterfront Hall the week before heading for New York, McComb admits the big pro bills give him itchy feet.

Last year he was linked with a possible switch to Matthew Macklin’s Mack The Knife set-up but decided to stay amateur for a third and possibly final crack at the World Championships in Hamburg at the end of August.

“It always gives me the urge. When I’m there and I’m in that atmosphere, everybody’s asking me ‘why are you not fighting? When are you going pro?’ It’s always the same questions.

“I wish I was pro. I wish I was 10 fights down the line and going for a title, I really do wish that, but I want to win a world medal. I don’t care about the Olympics, I just want to win a world medal.

“If you win a world medal as an amateur, you’re good enough to win a world title as a pro - that’s a fact. If you’re a world amateur elite medallist, there’s nothing that can stop you going all the way as a pro.

“There’s not the same publicity with a world medal as an Olympic medal but it’s 10 times harder to win.

“This is my last year to go for it – if I don’t win a medal this year, I don’t know what I’m going to do to be honest.”

Moving up from lightweight – where he was won two Irish Elite titles – to light-welter gives him a better chance of success on the international stage, McComb feels.

It is almost a year since he decided to go up to 64kg and, having performed well at all the pre-Olympic Games camps, McComb cantered to a third national success at February’s Irish Elites.

Having just missed out on Rio and the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he feels this is his time to shine.

“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said of jumping four kilos.

“That was the best I’ve ever boxed at the Irish seniors, I’ve had a lot of compliments. I felt so much in control. I just treated it like another sparring session and I felt so comfortable and relaxed in there.

“I feel I’ve got better after every setback. I’ve always come back stronger - they’ve made me a better man, and made me want to add to what I already have.

“I now have it in my head that I want to take things out of the judges’ hands. If the judges don’t like someone boxing, I’ll go in and fight and I can do that now whereas before I couldn’t.

“That’s why I believe I’m so good now, and why I believe I’ll go on and win a world medal this year.”

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Holy Trinity coach Pete Brady picks up his coach of the year award at Belfast city hall on Saturday night. Also pictured are, from left, Emma-Louise Lowe (strategic development manager, Holy Trinity), Michael Hawkins (Holy Trinity head coach), Dame Mary Peters and Lynne Wilson (sports development officer, Belfast City Council)

HOLY TRINITY COACH BRADY COMES UP TRUMPS AT BELFAST SPORTS AWARDS

AFTER a whirlwind 12 months, Holy Trinity’s Pete Brady was named senior coach of the year at the Belfast Sports Awards in city hall on Saturday night.

Brady joined the Turf Lodge club 10 years ago after starting out at Poleglass Boxing Club, and the last 18 months has seen him transfer his skills to the highly-successful Ulster High Performance unit.

As well as the bread and butter work that is done at Jordanstown, Brady was also in Russia (twice), Scotland, Hungary and Germany with Ulster teams during an action-packed year.

Fellow coaches like Holy Trinity pair Mickey and Harry Hawkins, and Ulster head coach John Conlan, are quick to sing Brady’s praises.

And he was a popular winner at the Belfast City Council-backed awards ceremony, which celebrate the city’s sporting finest.

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Brady.

“I’ve been very lucky to work with so many quality coaches through the years. I learned a lot from Charlie Brown in Poleglass, and then Mickey and Harry have a wealth of knowledge between them.

“They’ve coached at world and Olympic level so you learn so much from them, then to go on to work with John in the last year and a half has been great too.

“There’s been a lot of new methods that he’s picked up from other countries, and you pick up different things going away with different teams.

“I’m just delighted to be involved with the club and the Ulster High Performance unit,” he continued.

“It’s great receiving the award but, as a coach, the best reward you can get is seeing the young boxers coming through and watching them progress. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

Emma-Louise Lowe, strategic development manager at Holy Trinity Boxing Club, added: “As a voluntary organisation Holy Trinity Boxing Club are extremely grateful for the assistance provided by Belfast City Council and Mary Peters Trust.

“Mary Peters Trust have supported Holy Trinity Boxing Club for over 30 years, helping many of our young boxers achieve their goals.”

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