Olympian Steven Donnelly hoping to bring good times back to Irish boxing
IRISH boxing may have been left with a bloody nose after the political wranglings outside the ropes in the past week, but the upcoming European Championships gives the real stars of the show – the boxers – the opportunity to take talk away from boardroom battles.
Two men claiming to be chairman of the Irish Athletics Boxing Association (IABA), confusion over who should go to the Europeans as team manager, and the threat of a potentially damaging funding cut from Sport Ireland isn’t the ideal way to send a team off on international duty.
But then Irish boxing rarely does things the easy way.
It is understood that new High Performance director Bernard Dunne did travel to Ukraine with the Irish team yesterday, though it was unclear in what capacity.
From infighting to fighting in the ring, the European Championships begin on Wednesday, June 14 and – as the first major senior international competition since the Rio Olympics – its importance cannot be overstated.
That it is also the only means of qualification for August’s World Championships in Hamburg adds further incentive for Dunne, head coach Zaur Antia and their nine-strong team.
One of those looking to impress is Steven Donnelly.
The Ballymena welterweight is one of four Olympians heading to the Europeans, alongside Brendan Irvine, Joe Ward and Darren O’Neill, as part of a strong Irish select.
Preparation away from the ring may not have been ideal but, according to Donnelly, Dunne’s appointment has helped reinvigorate the High Performance unit.
“He’s been brilliant,” said the 28-year-old.
“Bernard comes to our training sessions, he’s watching us. If we’re on the bags, he’s standing there with his arms crossed, and he comes to the track sessions as well. So there’s no getting away with anything, no slacking.
“He knows what he wants, and you can tell he means business. That’s what we’ve needed because before we were just doing what we wanted to do.
“The coaches are aware he’s there, they know they’ve a job to do. There’s no messing around with him and he’s not afraid to make decisions that are important.
“It feels a lot more composed, it all feels good. He’s been there, he’s boxed himself, and I think he’s the right man for the job.”
Donnelly admits there was a post-Rio “hangover” in Abbotstown, with several fighters leaving to pursue professional careers.
Indeed, Donnelly looked set to join them after indicating his amateur days were over, but the 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist is now determined to make his mark on the European and World stage.
He added: “At the start, the team didn’t look too good, we were down at training and I was wondering how we were going to get on. It was depressing.
“There was a bit of a hangover after Rio, there always is I’m sure. That’s the big stage then you’re going from that to being in a gym down in Dublin on a Tuesday morning… it’s hard to get yourself going.
“But the past while the team’s coming on leaps and bounds, the passion’s back in everybody. The atmosphere’s a lot better and everyone seems a lot hungrier. It’s just getting going again after the Olympic period.
“I’ve been to the Commonwealths, the Olympics, so the Europeans is another notch on the belt. It’s also the only way to get to the Worlds, you have to reach the last eight, so that’s the plan.”
As for the lure of paid ranks, it’s a case of never say never, but for now Donnelly’s focus is on the job at hand.
“I’ve given up on that option.
“I’ll not settle for less than I deserve, that’ll never change and I’m not going to sign up with someone just to beat journeymen and sell tickets. I deserve a lot more.
“You see the GB Olympians on the Kell Brook undercard, they’re getting the recognition they deserve. You just can’t get the opportunity over here, so I’ll just see what happens and what will be will be.
“I’m training hard, I’m healthy, everything’s going good. Every time I start to train well in Dublin and get my head together, everything goes good for me.
“I can’t complain about my career so far. You never know, there’s probably a few twists and turns left in it yet.”