Pocket rocket Carly McNaul determined not to pass up second chance at Commonwealths

Carly McNaul training alongside the rest of the Northern Ireland boxing team at Jordanstown. Picture by Mark Marlow
Neil Loughran

WHEN Ceire Smith’s hand was raised beneath the bright lights of the Ulster Hall, the pain was unbearable. Not just the searing soreness shooting through the right hand Carly McNaul had broken days before, but the gut-wrenching feeling of an opportunity missed.

At 28, there aren’t too many more chances to make it to the Commonwealth Games. Smith was the better boxer on the night, no question, and McNaul struggled to come to terms with performing so poorly on such a big stage.

“I was gutted,” she said.

“I broke my hand sparring on the Monday before the senior final, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to fight or not. But, come the night, I was weight drawn and didn’t switch on.

“I was just terrible, it was the worst performance I’ve ever had. My legs were like concrete, I couldn’t move.

“Of course that had to happen in the most important fight of my career, so I’m very grateful to be here.”

Her selection came about after Smith was unable to compete, and McNaul got a call from Ulster head coach John Conlan inviting her to training at Jordanstown.

Confirmation of her selection at the start of January came as a huge relief, before the months of hard work kicked in prior to Team NI’s departure for the Gold Coast last week.

It will be the first time McNaul has been back in Australia since her family returned home two years after emigrating, an experience that hardened this tough nut from south Belfast’s Belvoir Estate.

Having only laced up gloves for the first time months before heading Down Under, a 14-year-old McNaul was determined to not to give up on boxing – no matter what it took.

“Where we lived was really out in the outback, Melbourne was the nearest city but it was about a three hour drive, so you were driving three hours to go to the boxing gym,” she recalls.

“My mum and dad went out there to work but it just didn’t work out. Going out to Australia was hard but I still boxed; I remember getting paid $200 for boxing at an exhibition.

“I originally got into it because I used to be out in the streets with my mates and I had two brothers as well, so I was always fighting – beating up all the lads! I got asked to go to the boxing club down at Sandy Row and a fella took me on the pads and told me I was natural.

“From that, I’ve just loved it. I never looked back. I played football before that but I didn’t like it; I always cracked up because it’s a team sport. At least in boxing you’ve only yourself to blame.”

After returning to Ireland aged 16, she joined Eastside boxing club – then also home to Commonwealth team-mate Alanna Nihell – before later moving on to Holy Trinity.

McNaul now boxes out of Charlie Toland’s Ormeau Road club, and enjoyed the best win of her senior career at a multi-nations tournament in Barcelona last September, giving her semi-final opponent two standing eight counts before forcing a third round stoppage, then winning the final on points.

Now she is on the road again, training with the Northern Ireland team at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra before moving on to the Gold Coast prior to the start of the boxing competition on April 4.

“This is something I’ve always dreamed of and, after 14 years in boxing, I’m finally getting to fulfil my dream.

“For the last Commonwealth qualifiers me and Alanna entered at 60 – now I’m going at 51 kilo. I’ve fought every weight down from 70 kilo. I used to not have a clue about dieting or anything like that, I just wanted to fight.

“Now I feel really good. The preparation has been excellent, it’s the hardest training I’ve ever done but I love it. I know I’ll be ready.”

Kristina O’Hara received a special send off at the St John Bosco club last week before jetting off to Australia with the rest of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games team. Bosco legend Sean McCafferty – who went to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo at the age of 19 - presented the fleet-footed light-fly with a cheque as she goes for gold in the Gold Coast. Meanwhile Padraig Downey, who regularly spars O’Hara at the west Belfast club, is in the 48kg Boy 4 final at the National Stadium on Saturday, March 31 while promising heavyweight Paul McCullough jr scored a first round knockout in the recent Belfast Box Cup meeting between Co Antrim and Cyprus. Picture by Cliff Donaldson


The third and final instalment of Ireland’s tour of America’s north east takes place in Manchester, New Hampshire tomorrow night.

Billy Walsh’s US team have won both legs s far, although eyebrows were raised about some of the decisions in Springfield last Thursday night – with Kelly Harrington and Grainne Walsh, in particular, coming out on the wrong side of the judges’ scorecards.

Oakleaf middleweight Brett McGinty was one of the three Irish winners then, getting the nod against New York native Nikola Ababiy, while Clonard’s Caoimhin Ferguson came out on the wrong side of a split decision after an entertaining clash with US light-welter Tiger Johnson.


CAOIMHIN Hynes, who is in Boston with the Ireland team, has received some big news after being drafted into the Italia Thunder team for their World Series of Boxing showdown against France’s Fighting Roosters in Paris on April 6. He will compete at middleweight.


RISING star Jake Tucker is one of a host of Ulster fights in action on a busy weekend of national Boy 4 and Junior 1/2 Championships in Dublin.

The Holy Family puncher, a silver medallist at last summer’s Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas, takes on Palmerstown’s Jack Young in the 70kg Junior 2 semi-final.

There are some tasty-looking all Ulster fights in the Boy 4 semi-finals on Friday to, with Dylan Eagleson (St Paul’s) taking on Michael Donohue from St Michael’s at 42kg, and Martin Brady-McCullough (Gleann) up against Colm McCann (54kg) at 54kg.

Selected Friday

Boy 4 semi-finals (5pm)

36kg: C dos Santos (Banbridge) v N Keegan (Mayfield)

39kg: S Stokes (Fr Horgan’s) v B Collins (East Down)

39kg: D McMonagle (Letterkenny) v C McEvoy (Donore)

42kg: M Donohue (St Michael’s) v D Eagleson (St Paul’s)

44kg: P Mullan (Holy Trinity) v D O’Neill (Charleville)

46kg: R McDonagh (Sparticus) v R Hetherington (Carrickmore)

48kg: C Gormley (Maydown Olympic) v S O’Brien (Raging Bull)

50kg: C McGill (Glengormley) v P Convery (St John’s)

52kg: C Corcoran (Carrickmore) v C Treanor (Dealgan)

54kg: P Donovan (Olympic) v R O’Gorman (St Malachy’s)

54kg: M Brady-McCullough (Gleann) v C McCann (Holy Trinity)

63kg: J Whelan (Docklands) v O Wallace (Dunfanaghy)

70kg: M Duffy (Charlestown) v D McHugh (Two Castles)

80kg: K Quinn (St Paul’s) v S Walsh (Trojan)

91kg: B Ward (Omagh Boys & Girls) v N Ivanauskas (Clane)


Selected Junior 1 semi-finals (10am)

44kg: K Sheridan (Crumlin) v P Gordon (East Down)

46kg: M O’Doherty (Clonard) v M Farrelly (Crumlin)

46kg: K Fahy (Oughterard) v S Neeson (Moneyglass)

48kg: J Callaghan (Illies GG) v J McCarthy (Tralee)

50kg: M McCarthy (Tralee) v J McConnell (Holy Trinity)

50kg: E Quinn (St John’s, Derry) v J Rapple (Monkstown, Dublin)

52kg: T Orr (Lisburn) v K Roche (St Aidan’s)

57kg: O Gethins (Sean McDermott’s) v E McCaul (St Joseph’s, Derry)

57kg: B O’Connor (Sliabh Luachra) v T McCann (St Paul’s)

60kg: F Gill (Ardnaree) v S O’Gorman (St Malachy’s)

63kg: S McCullough (All Saints) v P Joyce (Baldoyle)

66kg: T Mayse (Two Castles) v L Ward (Monivea)

70kg: D Sofuyi (Ledley Hall) v F Duffin (Loughshore)

75kg: C McKiernan (Castleblaney) v P Keenan (Raging Bull)

80kg: S Doherty (Charlestown) v P McDonagh (Cookstown)

Selected Junior 2 semi-finals (5pm)

JI42kg: A Kirwan Doyle (The Ballagh) v O Mulholland (East Down)

44kg: R Roy (Lisburn) v TBC

48kg: M Robinson (Drimnagh) v C Bigger (Cookstown)

54kg: R Corcoran (Corinthians) v D Duffy (Immaculata, Strabane)

57kg: F Rodgers (Dungloe) v Winner

70kg: J Tucker (Holy Family) v J Young (Palmerstown)

80kg: S Malone (Rathkeale) v P O’Hagan (St Joseph’s, Derry)

85kg: D McDonagh (Navan) v T Doherty (Raphoe)

91+kg: J Donovan (OLOL) v P Carville (Pegasus)

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access