'This is something I always want to look back on and remember': Alanna Nihell ready for second shot at Commonwealths
SHE may have returned home with a medal around her neck, one of nine boxers to do so during a glorious 2014 Commonwealth Games, but Alanna Nihell cringes slightly when thinking back to her two fights in Glasgow.
“I wasn’t happy, no,” she says ruefully when recalling her victory over Dominica’s Valerian Spicer, before bowing out to eventual lightweight champion Shelley Watts at the semi-final stage.
“When I watch it back I’m like ‘Alanna, you could’ve done better’. In Glasgow my energy levels were affected because I struggled to get the last two kilos off, but this time there won’t be any of that.”
Fast forward four years, and Nihell feels like a different animal.
At 32, top of her list of objectives is a return to the Commonwealth Games, this time in the sunnier climes of Australia’s Gold Coast.
Named joint captain of the Northern Ireland team alongside Sean McComb, she has helped foster a strong bond among the group. However, once between the ropes, only Nihell can decide her own fate.
As opposed to 2014 when, by her own admission, “cheat days would sometimes become cheat weekends”, no stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of a podium-topping performance Down Under this time around.
“I’ve matured a lot. I’ve educated myself a lot more in terms of nutrition, being more disciplined and that’s one of the main things,” she says.
“The last couple of years I’ve done well. I boxed the number one and two in the world at my weight this season and, although I lost to both of them, they were very close fights. There was nothing in it.
“That made me realise I’m up there with a lot of them and I have the ability to win these competitions with my experience and my skill.
“This is something I always want to look back on and remember.”
And Nihell knows a bit about creating lasting memories, having fought Katie Taylor in the first-ever all-female bout at the National Stadium in Dublin on Halloween night 2001.
Future Olympic champion Taylor was 15, Nihell – then Alanna Audley – just turned 16. Almost 17 years on, both are still going strong, with Taylor hunting down world title belts in the pro game while Commonwealth glory consumes Nihell.
The boxing gene seems to run in the family too, with younger brother Lewis Crocker one of the most highly-rated young fighters to emerge from these shores in some time.
According to his elder sister though, Crocker had to learn the hard way before eventually swapping his first love, wrestling, for the ring.
“I gave him hell as a youngster; I used to beat him up and knock him about, give him dead arms,” smiles Nihell, who has been back living with Lewis, younger sister Arizona, mum Bonnie and step dad Ricky while in camp.
“He was into wrestling and when all my friends would be coming in he’d be doing wrestling moves on them.
“He knocked one of my friends’ two front teeth out once doing a wrestling move – he pulled a speaker down and it hit her. She had braces on for three years.
“He cracked open another friend’s head with his cast,” she added before going full-on WWE, shouting: “‘Stone Cold Steve Austin, boom!’
“He was just an energetic kid and eventually I took him down to the club at Sandy Row. I had to work for it, but after two or three sessions you could just see he naturally had it.
“Nowadays Lewis is the quiet man; he’s a good kid. Very humble, he reminds me a bit of the way Carl Frampton is in terms of his ability to bring both sides together. Lewis is forming a fanbase the way Frampton did.
“He’s only 21, he has a big future ahead of him and he believes he is going to go places. He has all the ability in the world, my brother – everybody talks about him being a knockout artist but he can do everything. He’s very skilful.
“I’m just excited to see where the journey takes him down the line.”
Crocker goes for the fifth win of his pro career on the undercard of Frampton’s SSE Arena date with Nonito Donaire on April 21.
Nihell will be back from Australia by then, and fully expects to have got the ball rolling on what could be an unforgettable month for a family with fighting in its blood.
“I have tunnel vision now, and I really believe this team is capable of big things.
“Because I’m one of the oldest, you want to try and influence them I suppose, which is the way I am in general. Everyone’s got a good vibe about them, and I think we can do better than last time.
“Even though we don’t have Mick [Conlan] or Paddy [Barnes] this time, there’s some real up-and-coming talents there. James McGivern and Aidan Walsh both won gold at the 2015 Commonwealth Youths, Kurt Walker, Sean, Steven Donnelly… there’s loads.
“I just feel much more confident in myself too. At these Games everyone’s going to see me at my best, 100 per cent. I really believe I’m going to go there and win gold – that’s not being cocky, it’s just being confident in my ability.
“If I go away and get beat, it’ll be because the person on the day was better. Nothing else.
“This time there can’t be any excuses.”
DANGER IN THE DRAW
60kg: Laisharam Devi (India)
WEIGHT issues put paid to Shelley Watts’s hopes of defending the lightweight title, so Anja Stridsman carries the home hopes at 60kg. She won her three qualification fights on a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament before paying $13,500 to replace her damaged tendon with an Achilles tendon from a corpse. However, it remains to be seen if she is in the same class as Watts.
Experienced Indian Laisharam Devi – beaten finalist in Glasgow four years ago – looks like the one to be wary of, even at the age of 36.
IN TOMORROW'S IRISH NEWS
Heavyweight Damien Sullivan on shedding six stone en route to fulfilling his Commonwealth Games dream