Boxing

"I've sat down with Mickey Hawkins a few times and said ‘what is the point here?'": Sean McComb on overcoming adversity ahead of Commonwealths bow

Sean McComb is joint captain of the Northern Ireland boxing team, along with the experienced Alanna Nihell. Picture by Mark Marlow

‘Sometimes late at night… I lie awake and watch her sleeeeeeee-ping...’

SEAN McComb’s dulcet tones are a regular feature of post-training warm downs, the last reserves of energy summoned for one last burst that echoes around the hall as tired bodies fill the floor.

Garth Brooks was the choice this day. It could have been any number of others, or maybe an off the cuff impression (his ‘sugar water’ guy from Men in Black is worth the entrance fee alone).

McComb fancies himself as a bit of a mover too. At Paddy Barnes's wedding last year, footage of a dance off with the similarly long-limbed Tyrone McKenna went viral as both ate up the floor, determined to come out on top.

Then there was his one-day stint as the red-coated Batman of Belfast city, dramatically chasing and catching two runaway thieves to widespread acclaim while on duty with one of the local sightseeing bus companies.

You get the picture.

Outside the ropes, McComb is famed for the roguish wit honed in the high performance environment shared with fellow Belfast boys Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Tommy McCarthy.

And there was a time when messing might have got in the way of training and preparation – but not any more.

McComb has just finished some technical sparring with Aidan Walsh in the makeshift ring at Jordanstown, an almost perfect square cordoned off at two sides by something akin to crime tape wrapped around a pole in the middle of the room.

Gloves and headguards on, it is all business. In the gym that morning, all business, leading by example.

But the second John Conlan calls an end to the session?

‘And if tomorrrrrrrrrrrow never commmmmmes…’

Shattered team-mates look on and laugh. It is for these reasons, as well as his supreme boxing ability, that Conlan named McComb captain alongside the experienced Alanna Nihell.

“Sure you have to enjoy it, with all the hard work you put in,” says the Holy Trinity stylist.

“Once I’m in the gym, I’m fully focused on what I have to do. There’s a couple of posters there on the walls, I read them every day I come in.

“I’ve done enough messing about over the years… I’m still the biggest messer outside these walls, but I’ve started maturing a wee bit and realising that in here is where the real work’s done.”

Yet McComb, of everybody in the room, would have the most cause not be here at all after a series of heartbreaking disappointments.

First, he was controversially overlooked for the 2010 Games in Delhi, and four years later – despite being Irish lightweight champion at the time – missed out on Glasgow after losing a box-off to Immaculata’s Joe Fitzpatrick.

McComb was in the shake-up for Rio 2016 too and, having moved up to 64kg, had been touted for a box-off against Dean Walsh after the Wexford light-welter was sent home from an Olympic qualifying tournament.

It never came off, and so died another dream.

Then last year, after beating World number one Vitaly Dunaytsev at the European Championships, McComb bowed out to England’s Luke McCormack – a potential opponent in the coming weeks – before the medal stages, despite appearing to clearly win the last two rounds.

Fighters have walked away from the sport for much less but, although he has considered his future countless times, McComb keeps on coming back hungry for more.

“I’ve had a load of bad decisions and everyone can talk about it for a week or two after, but then you have to forget about it.

“Sometimes it’s disheartening. I’ve sat down with Mickey Hawkins a few times and said ‘what is the point here? Seriously, what is the point?’

“It’s out of my hands whether I win or not. In football, you put the ball in the back of the net more than the other team, you win. I’m busting my balls for seven or eight weeks training to go in and let someone else decide whether I win or not.

“It’s only self belief that’s pulled me through it; when you know how good you are, and when you know you’ve won the fight. The judges might not say you won the fight, but you know you won the fight and the people in the crowd know you won the fight, so that gives you the belief to come back.

“If you can come away and say ‘I’m happy with that performance’, then what more can you do?”

Sean McComb celebrates his impressive victory over Russia's Vitaly Dunaystev in Kharkiv last year

McComb was happy with his performance against Joe Fitzpatrick in that 2014 box-off, and vowed never to fight in Ulster again after the decision went in favour of the Mac man.

However, when Kevin Duffy and Charlie Toland took the top two Ulster Council posts in last year’s re-run election, getting the 25-year-old back on board was an immediate priority.

Initially, though, it wasn’t an easy sell.

“I was still being persuaded by Mickey and Harry [Hawkins], trying to convince me to go into them but I was in two minds. I just wasn’t feeling it.

“Even when I decided to enter the Ulster seniors, I just couldn’t get motivated at all. I didn’t even train for them. I had two spars with Anthony Cacace because he was preparing for a fight and I was surprisingly good.

“I left that thinking ‘I’m actually not in bad shape’.”

McComb shook off that lethargy en route to the Ulster title last November and, with the Gold Coast now firmly in his sights, there is nothing else on his mind.

“Every morning I get up I’m wrecked, I think ‘get me out of here, I don’t want to go to training’ but then I switch myself on, have a cup of tea and I’m buzzing. I’m here now and ready to do the job.

“If I hadn’t entered the Ulster seniors, God knows where I’d have been.”

IIIIIIIIIIIOOOOOIIIIIIIIIII

Luke McCormack got the nod against Sean McComb at the European Championships in Kharkiv last year

DANGER IN THE DRAW

64kg: Luke McCormack (England)

HAS previous with Sean McComb after his controversial victory over the west Belfast man in last year’s European quarter-final – the plot line for a rematch is already in place. Russian-born Canadian Arthur Biyarslanov would have been a major player but he turned pro and has since been replaced by Thomas Blumenfeld – a 19-year-old better known as a bantamweight, selected at 64kg. Blumenfeld beat Monaghan's Stephen McKenna in the light-welter final of the Celtic Box Cup in Dungarvan last October

IN TOMORROW’S IRISH NEWS

Neil Loughran talks to Aidan and Michaela Walsh as they prepare to make Commonwealth Games history

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