'I don't do scouting - they can scout me': James McGivern ready to deliver on his promise Down Under
THERE was a time when the phone would ring every couple of months - sometimes every week, depending on the time of year. But always on a Sunday around lunchtime, and always with the same message being delivered from the other end.
“He’s done it again…”
From his days both inside and outside the ropes, Danny Boyd has seen countless kids coming through the doors of the famous St George’s club in Belfast’s Markets area.
A man immersed in boxing, he knows talent when he sees it, and that’s why he was picking up the phone long before James McGivern had done anything worth shouting about. After just one session in fact.
“I was never allowed to box but then I sneaked down one night and when I came back I said ‘mummy, I went to boxing’,” recalls McGivern.
“She flipped – ‘you’ll never be near the place ever again’, that sort of stuff. But then Danso [Boyd] phoned my dad and said ‘listen, he’s got a bit of potential…’
“From there I never missed a night of training. After two or three weeks I had my first fight and my da went with me – I was white as a sheet, my da was white as a sheet. But I got in and did really well.
“I hated the first bit when I was getting nervous, but once I was in there I loved every second of it.”
Eleven underage Irish titles and several Sunday phone calls later McGivern, for so long the star in the making, is now ready to announce his arrival on the big stage.
He was only 19 when, in just his fifth senior fight and not long after moving up from 56kg to 60kg, McGivern produced a masterclass to defeat the fancied Sean Duffy in last November’s Ulster Elite final.
He also returned to his lower Ormeau Road home with the prestigious ‘Best Boxer’ award on the night boxing returned to the Ulster Hall.
A Commonwealth Games bronze medallist four years ago, Duffy had looked hugely impressive in earlier wins over Gerard Matthews and Stephen McKenna, flooring the highly-rated Old School fighter twice en route to victory.
Plenty feared it was too much too soon for McGivern, but he and Boyd had other ideas.
“Everybody was telling me ‘you can’t get hit by this guy, he hits like a horse’. I’ve sparred Stevie McKenna and hit him with everything I had and he hasn’t flinched. John [Conlan] has even said to me ‘don’t bother trying to knock him out because he’ll just keep coming’.
“All that was in my head but I was doing the pads the night before and I just remember feeling great. I said to Danso ‘tell you what, I’ll push him back – there’s no chance I’m going in here to run about in circles if I don’t have to’.
“I knew by the third round the fight would be over, and I could do what I want. It was almost like I was visualising it when I was doing pads. We were actually cheering and shouting in the club like I’d already won the fight, it was strange.
“But I think me and Danny just clicked and thought ‘we’re ready for this’.”
That win made him a shoo-in for the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, one of the new breed aiming to carry the baton passed by men like Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes.
Two years ago he was part of the John Conlan-led team that travelled to the youth equivalent in Samoa, McGivern – like team-mate Aidan Walsh – returning home with gold.
And now, with the action Down Under starting next week, the 20-year-old has his sights set on a unique double.
“Yesterday we were doing a cool down when John came and said to me ‘you’re on the brink of making history here’,” said McGivern, who turned 20 in January.
“I’ve always said this about me and Aidan [Walsh], we’re going to go out here and do the double. As much as I love Aidan, I’m going to be the first that does it because I’m at the lower weight.
“I’m like a dog with a bone now. Nobody’s going to take this off me.”
As you may have gathered, McGivern certainly doesn’t lack in confidence. Yet just like in his first fight all those years ago, butterflies still fill his stomach before a big fight.
He wouldn’t have it any other way. The bigger the fight, the greater the nerves, the better the performance.
“Before the Ulster seniors my strength and conditioning coach Stuart McKeating sent me a message that read: ‘Fate whispers to the warrior, you cannot withstand the storm. The warrior whispers back – I am the storm’.
“If I’m ever getting nervous I just take myself away, sit down with my headphones, close my eyes, listen to the bodhran beat in the Christy Moore song ‘The Well below the Valley’ and think of the warrior.
“That gets me in the mood.”
McGivern will go through exactly the same routine at Brisbane’s Oxenford Studios, home to a host of Hollywood blockbusters, as he continues to write his own script.
The draw takes place on Tuesday as the clock ticks down. Lightweight is always competitive, and 2018 looks no different.
Yet ask McGivern who he considers to be in his way and the answer is unequivocal.
“Nobody - only the man in the mirror,” he snaps.
“I don’t do scouting. They can scout me. Within 15, 20 seconds I know what I’m dealing with, and then you’ve John there too. John’s like a super-computer. He’ll watch one fight and say ‘here’s how you beat him’.
“I have complete trust in all the coaches, and in my own ability. I’m ready for this.”
DANGER IN THE DRAW
60kg: Calum French (England)
DRAFTED into the Team GB podium potential squad in 2015, 22-year-old French was quickly accelerated into the senior group and took bronze at last year’s European Championships. Has fought four times in the World Series of Boxing, winning them all.
Manish Kaushik is also a real danger after defeating Rio Olympian Shiv Thapa to book his spot on the India team, while home favourite Harry Garside is unbeaten in Australia in four years.
IN TOMORROW’S IRISH NEWS
Steven Donnelly on why he can make it third time lucky by landing gold in the Gold Coast