Sean Duffy hoping to turn back the clock and secure spot at 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast
IT was while travelling Australia back in the Spring that it finally dawned on Sean Duffy. Along with a couple of friends he travelled to Brisbane, spending a day soaking up the rays at Surfer’s Paradise.
The Keady man hadn’t thrown a punch in anger since losing out to Michael Glendinning in the 2014 Ulster Elite final, putting boxing on the backburner as attentions turned to the personal training business he was getting off the ground.
While Down Under, he pulled on the gloves every now and then, but nothing too serious. In his mind, he hadn’t left the sport behind, but other matters were taking priority.
But one day a stroll along the promenade brought Duffy face-to-face with a significant event from his past and, as of that moment, his future.
“There was a big surfboard with a countdown clock to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast. My friend said ‘we were supporting you at the last ones - wouldn’t it be great to go again?’”
Three years ago Duffy landed a bronze medal at the last Commonwealths in Glasgow, following on from the silver brought home from the Commonwealth Youths in Pune, India six years earlier.
The Games have been a massive part of his story in boxing, and the idea of making a return to the Gold Coast a little over 12 months later began to eat away at him.
Within days he had called coach Harry Hawkins back in Belfast to suss out the best way forward. The Holy Trinity stalwart felt the Commonwealths was the perfect goal for Duffy to aim for upon his return and, like that, the wheels were motion.
“Seeing that clock just struck a chord with me… it gave me the rush of motivation I needed,” said the 26-year-old.
“After the last Commonwealths everything got a bit mad, I was very busy. There was a brilliant hype after it, and I sort of turned myself more to business than boxing after, which I probably shouldn’t have, thinking back.
It’s one of those things where the funding wasn’t great when we were going to the Commonwealth Games, and I was pretty much playing catch-up the whole time.
When we were at training camps, bills were stacking up and it was getting on top of me, the whole thing.
“Before I saw the countdown, I was doing a bit of training at a club in Brisbane and I was in talks about turning professional. I didn’t know whether to do it or not, I wasn’t too sure, but that just made my mind up that I wanted to come home and give these Commonwealth Games a good crack.”
The last ones, he admits, feel like a lifetime ago. Fighting at light-welterweight, he came up short against Jonas Junias in the semi-final, the Namibian eventually losing to Carl Frampton’s former Cyclone Promotions stable-mate Josh Taylor in the decider.
This time around, Duffy intends to drop down to the lightweight class for November’s Ulster Elites, which will act as part of the qualification process for the Gold Coast.
He accepts it is a bit of a risk, but feels it’s one worth taking if he is to add gold to the Commonwealth silver and bronze already in his possession.
“I haven’t been 60 kilos since I won the Commonwealth Youth Games in India back in 2008.
“I always knew I was making 64, not easy, but easier than some of the other boys like Paddy Barnes and Mick Conlan were making their weight.
“Even at the 2014 Commonwealths, the guys I fought were that wee bit taller. I was just missing a few wee things that other 64 kilo boxers had, so when I came back I knew I had to give 60 a go.
“I knew in my heart after the medal ceremony in Glasgow that, if I was boxing at lightweight, I’d have come away with gold.
“It’ll be harder to make the weight, but it’ll be more suited to my boxing ability. We’re getting good, competitive spars, putting in a lot of hard work, so come the Ulster seniors, I’m looking to put my foot down and put on a big show.”
McCULLOUGH CAN CONTINUE PROUD FAMILY TRADITION SAYS COACH
BOXING may be in Paul McCullough’s blood, but the big St John Bosco heavyweight has been tipped to make his own name in the sport after starring at last week’s Celtic Box Cup.
Grandfather Paul was a highly-respected coach, working out of Barney Eastwood’s Gym during the 1990s, while dad - also Paul - was an amateur stand-out when he boxed for Immaculata.
Despite winning the Irish senior title, McCullough controversially missed out on the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona where golden boy Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough returned home with medals.
He helped out at Eastwood’s Gym for a time - sparring former welterweight world champion Crisanto Espana among others - and is now a professional boxing referee, as well as helping out on the coaching front at Bosco.
And it is at the famous west Belfast club where McCullough’s 17-year-old son is honing his skills.
Last year he won the super-heavyweight final of the Celtic Box Cup but, after dropping 19 kilos, entered at heavyweight this year and romped to the title, defeating Portugal’s José Rodrigues in the Male Youth B decider.
“Paul comes from a big boxing family, and he’s really coming on leaps and bounds,” said Bosco head coach Gerard McCafferty.
“Last year he weighed in at 105 kilos, and this year he came in at 86 kilo. He had injured his left hand in the semi-final so had to box southpaw in the final and he beat the fella handy enough.
“He said he could’ve stopped him if he’d wanted to but he was just enjoying the fight too much. Paul can box and he can fight and now that he’s got his fitness into gear, he’s growing into a big six-foot-four athlete now.”
McCullough had been in the frame for possible Commonwealth Youth Games selection earlier this year before the heavyweight division was pulled from the competition.
However, despite that setback, McCafferty insists better days lie ahead.
“He lost in the final of the All-Ireland U18s last year but this could be his year. He’s just turned 17, so it’s a different ball game now - he’s only really coming into his peak at U18 level.
“He still hasn’t had a chance to represent County Antrim or Ulster, or Ireland, so he has been kept on the back-burner, but hopefully he gets his chance.
“Paul’s had a few bits of bad luck, but now he’s coming good at the right time and there’s a few things falling into place for him.”