'I was under big pressure there – that was great': Steven Donnelly revels in comeback victory over Caoimhin Hynes
“JOB done - job f***king done.” Steven Donnelly wasn’t in the mood for niceties after having his hand raised at a packed Dockers Club last Friday night.
Ever since the Ulster Elite Championship draw was made the Sunday before, paving the way for a possible middleweight semi-final grudge match with Caoimhin Hynes, Donnelly had opted to keep his powder dry.
Interview requests were politely declined. Any talking, he insisted, would be done in the ring.
Before Friday night it had been three years since Donnelly last boxed in Ulster, and in between times he has picked up a Commonwealth Games bronze medal and appeared at an Olympic Games.
Finding the motivation for a return to his old stomping ground had been a struggle. He felt flat during sparring, as though he was just going through the motions.
Indeed, just two weeks before the weigh-ins, he still hadn’t decided whether to enter at all.
“I didn’t even know what I was going to do, to be honest,” said Donnelly, who stays on course for a sixth Ulster title at his fourth different weight having won at 57, 64 and 69kg already.
“I was thinking ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’ I was bored. My sparring in the build-up wasn’t great, I just felt bored. Dermot [Hamill] knew I was bored too, he was saying I needed to take it up a notch.”
Yet here he stands, preparing for an Ulster final against Fearghus Quinn at a sold out Ulster Hall with golden memories of a night he will never forget.
And what made Friday’s victory all the sweeter was the man in the opposite corner.
“As soon as the draw was made, I was switched on.”
Donnelly and Hynes have had some intense sparring sessions in recent years, from which varying reports have emerged, and once or twice hostilities spilled out on to social media.
Friday’s fight had all the feeling of a hot and heavy grudge match, and one with no shortage of sub-plots.
An absorbing contest flashed by in the blink of an eye before Donnelly got the nod, an ill-advised headbutt in the second round seeing Hynes docked a crucial point on the road to defeat.
Referee Malachy Scott had to tell both men to cut the chit-chat at one stage and focus on the fighting. When they did, a belter broke out, with both sets of supporters roaring their men on.
“I was under big pressure there, first fight in ages – that was great,” said Donnelly.
“I could hear his supporters shouting ‘he’s finished’ and ‘it’s your time’. Then in the middle of the ring he was saying a few things too - he let himself down.
“But the atmosphere was brilliant. First fight back, the pressure I was under… I had been hoping to get a fight but no, I was straight into the deep end.
“On the Friday I saw the preview in The Irish News and thought ‘Jesus, this is going to be a big one with a big crowd there’, and so it was.
“But I used all my experience and his inexperience showed, especially with the headbutt. At that point I thought ‘happy days, he’s playing right into my hands here’.
“It was a good fight, close here and there, but he never hurt me once. I was well in control and was a clear winner. There were people thinking I was going to get beat, that it was his time.
“He’s only 20 and there’s me, I’m 29 now - an old man. To go in and do that just shows there’s plenty of fight left in me yet.
“It’s just in me. Without boxing, I have nothing.”
Donnelly might be a bit young to be considered Ballymena’s answer to Bernard Hopkins just yet, but he certainly used all his ring-craft on Friday night.
And when the adrenaline of that win finally died down, the Rio Olympian swiftly turned his attention to Quinn, who stands between him and a third consecutive Commonwealth Games.
And whereas Donnelly has just completed his first competitive three-rounder at middleweight, Camlough southpaw Quinn is well established at the 75 kilo limit and goes into Friday’s final as defending Ulster champion.
“I had to leave before his fight on Friday night so I didn’t get seeing him.
“I did a bit of school combat with him up in Jordanstown but other than that, I don’t know a whole lot about him. I know he’s southpaw, he’s strong and fit.
“He’s a nice lad too, conducts himself well.”
See full fight report and footage by clicking the link below
WALLACE 'ABSOLUTELY GUTTED' TO MISS ULSTER HALL SHOWPIECE
FORMER Irish elite finalist Conor Wallace has admitted he is “absolutely gutted” to miss out on Friday’s Ulster finals night at the Ulster Hall after his opponent pulled out.
The Newry southpaw had been scheduled to face Karol Dlugosz (Scorpion) in the 81kg decider, but the Scorpion light-heavy injured his thumb in the semi-final victory over Michael McAllister.
Wallace, who remains in the frame for next April’s Commonwealth Games, said: “I’m absolutely gutted after all the hard work - next Friday I will be crowned Ulster elite champion [via walkover], another step closer to the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.
“It will be a great night of boxing in the Ulster Hall best of luck to all involved.”
O'HARA HOPING TO GET BIG BREAK BY BOOKING COMMONWALTH SPOT
SINCE first lacing up gloves 11 years ago, Kristina O’Hara has been patiently waiting for the opportunity to announce herself on the big stage – and she hopes the realisation of that dream could be just around the corner.
The St John Bosco light-fly faces Canal’s Chloe Fleck in Friday night’s 48kg final, with places at next April’s Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast up for grabs.
It has yet to be decided how many boxers will represent Team NI Down Under, but O’Hara knows a big performance could put her in the frame for the first Commonwealth competition to include her weight class.
“It’s a big deal for me”, said O’Hara, who has been sparring with 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Michaela Walsh in recent weeks.
“Since I was about 10 I’ve been waiting for an opportunity for something big. I’ve had my fair share of international experience, I’ve travelled a lot with boxing but I’ve been waiting for my big opportunity.
“If I could go away and get a Commonwealth Games gold medal, it would change a lot of things for me. It would be the break I’ve been waiting for.”
O’Hara knows that she has to take care of business first on Friday night, and look impressive doing so.
She continued: “I’m hoping they take three girls’ weights – 48, 51 and 57. You never know though.
“You have to go out and put in a good performance, they’re only going to pick the people who they think are going to win medals.
“I have to go in and give it my best performance. I want to stand out.”