Boxing

Stephen McMonagle aiming to return with Commonwealth medal after brother's Delhi disappointment

Stephen McMonagle may have no job to come back to after opting to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. Picture by Mark Marlow

CATHAL McMonagle would have been in with a huge medal shout after originally being named in the Northern Ireland squad for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The Letterkenny super-heavy - a veteran of the 2002 Games in Manchester and controversially overlooked in 2006 when campaigning at heavyweight - was an obvious choice for Delhi, with a slew of Irish titles already in the bag and a European Union silver secured in 2007.

However, when work commitments meant the Donegal engineer was unable to commit to the training regime laid down by Ulster boxing chiefs, McMonagle missed out – and so too did Team NI whose impressive haul of three golds and two silver would surely have been added to.

McMonagle moved on, setting his sights on the London Olympics instead before eventually drifting away from the sport, a narrow 22-18 defeat to an up-and-coming young Londoner called Anthony Joshua at the 2011 European Championships one of his last appearances in the ring.

However, seven years later - and eight years on from that Delhi disappointment - another McMonagle will be fighting for the family name at this Commonwealths.

And younger brother Stephen is determined to bring home the medal that was left behind in India.

Ten years Cathal’s junior and, like his elder sibling, competing at 91+kg, Stephen McMonagle made sure to soak in every part of the opening ceremony at the Carrara Stadium on Australia’s Gold Coast yesterday.

And, having grown up following his big brother’s exploits between the ropes, the 28-year-old is relishing the opportunity to carve out some history of his own.

“Aye, seeing Cathal doing well would have been a big reason to get into it,” he said.

“He went to the Commonwealths in ‘02 then he tried to go in ‘06 but there was a big controversy. He was picked in 2010 but didn’t go that time... I don’t know what happened there,” adds McMonagle diplomatically, before adding: “I think he was a bit disillusioned with the way things were going at that time.

“From my own point of view, I’m just delighted to be in this position, it’s something I’ve worked hard for and I know if I perform well that I’ll have a good chance against most of the guys in it.

“Throughout my time I’ve fought a lot of really good boys at heavyweight, light-heavy, so I know if I can bring my skill up to super-heavyweight I’ve a good chance of winning a medal or maybe even going all the way.”

And, considering the sacrifices he has made just to get to this point, McMonagle would not have boarded the plane to Australia unless he believed there was a genuine chance he could be standing on that podium come April 14.

Yet, after losing a close fight to Joe Joyce in the Ulster Elite semi-final last November, the Holy Trinity fighter feared his chance was gone altogether.

Ulster High Performance coach John Conlan had other ideas though and sounded McMonagle out before Christmas, weeks before the team would be officially announced on January 3.

It may have been a simple yes or no answer for most of those approached around the same time, but not for the Belfast-based banger.

After a chat with his employers at McQuillan Companies in Antrim, where he is an analytical chemist, it became clear there may be no job waiting for him upon his return from the Gold Coast.

“I had to give up the job in for the time being and I don’t know if I’ll get back into it,” admitted McMonagle, who has been in full-time training with the Northern Ireland team at Jordanstown since January.

“I’ve been in the job for four years. I understand like, it’s one of those things where they were a bit tight for staff so they couldn’t just leave it open. They said there’s a chance I could get back in but they couldn’t guarantee it, so we’ll see what happens.

“It was a big decision, but at the same time I was thinking I can always get a job when I come back. I’ve got a big opportunity here, going to the Commonwealths in Australia, and it’s an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.

“I was thinking on it a good while with my parents and brothers and stuff but then I decided, if they weren’t going to give me the time off, I’d go for it anyway. Maybe if I do well out here they’ll be keen to have me back!”

Between university and work over the last decade, boxing hasn’t always come first. Ever since he first laced up gloves at Twin Towns aged 15, McMonagle has dipped in and out of the sport.

It is a regret, he admits, that the commitment hasn’t always been there because during the times he has been in the groove, McMonagle collected titles for fun, winning Ulster intermediate and senior titles after joining Holy Trinity.

This is “by far” the most intense training camp he has ever been a part of and, while McMonagle may be seen as an outside hope of a medal rather than a strong fancy like some of his team-mates, he is confident going in against the best on offer.

And he also has the backing of his big brother to upset the odds.

“Oh aye, I’ve chatted away to him,” he says.

“Cathal would know who to look out for and stuff. He knows the score, and that if I’m 100 per cent I have a good chance.

“I’ve sparred many rounds with him and he knows what I’m capable of too. He beat plenty of boys he wasn’t supposed to beat – it can be done if you’re coming in fit, strong and determined like I am.”

Frazer Clarke is a long-time friend and sparring partner of world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua

DANGER IN THE DRAW

91+kg: Frazer Clarke (England)

OF the 10 entries in the super-heavy draw, Clarke is definitely the danger man. A sparring partner of Anthony Joshua (he did in excess of 60 rounds with the world heavyweight champion before last weekend’s unification fight with Joseph Parker), Clarke won gold at the 2015 Olympic test event in Rio and took home silver from last year’s European Championships

IN TOMORROW'S IRISH NEWS

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