'I wouldn't even have cared if I'd been knocked out in the first round, I just wanted the chance to prove myself': Connor Kearney furious over U22 exit
TRAINING twice a day, six days a week, morning runs before work, another few miles after hours, all for the dream of pulling on that famous green vest and fighting for Ireland.
This has been Connor Kearney's life since last August, but at the weekend that international ambition was cruelly snatched away without a glove being laced up or a punch thrown.
Confusion at the National Stadium contributed to the Holy Family flyweight being left demoralised on the drive home from Dublin after his opponent, Leigh Moran of Illies GG, was handed a walkover win in their Irish U22 championship.
The controversy began in the hours after Friday afternoon's weigh-in.
Kearney was subsequently informed that he wasn't scheduled to fight until the following Saturday so, along with coach Gerry Storey jnr, grabbed something to eat before checking out of their hotel and heading towards Belfast.
While in the car, Kearney noticed that the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) website had him down to face Moran the following day. A swift detour took the Holy Family party straight to the stadium.
“We went to see what was actually happening and they said the computer made a mistake and that they could only apologise,” explained the 20-year-old from west Belfast.
“We were told that, because of the inconvenience caused, I could weigh in at 1.30pm on Saturday and I would be the 18th fight, fighting between 3pm and 4pm.
“We had to get the club to rebook the hotel, I had to go training to get a bit of weight off me from what I'd eaten, and then we went to the weigh-in at 8am the following morning with everyone else - nobody said a word to me or Gerry jnr.”
Rather than hang around the stadium all day waiting for his fight - “I'd rather just go, get in, get it done” - Kearney and Storey returned to their M50 hotel to relax and prepare.
At 2pm, an IABA official called Storey jnr telling him they “needed to get to the stadium now” as their fight was next up.
After dashing out of the hotel to the car, they arrived at the National Stadium just in time to hear Moran being announced as the winner on a walkover.
“When we arrived at the stadium I could hear someone talking on the microphone and I just knew that was him in the ring.
“I was supposed to be the 18th fight but they pulled it back to the 10th. Even if there were fights cancelled or finished early, it shouldn't matter. They had given me a time, that's why they had offered me a late weigh-in in the first place.”
Kearney's protests fell on deaf ears, leaving him to ponder his own future in the sport. Had he won the U22s, Kearney would have been on the Irish squad bound for the European Championships in Romania in March.
Representing Ireland has been his dream for as long as he can remember, having that taken away in such circumstances was, and remains, a bitter pill to swallow.
He said: “I've been putting my heart and soul into it, watching what I'm eating, constantly training, out running before work, after work. At the club every night, looking for a fight, just trying to get any opportunity I can to fight for Ireland.
“Half a year training my backside off for them just to take it away from me. I wouldn't even have cared if I'd been knocked out in the first round, I just wanted the chance to prove myself.
“On Saturday I didn't ever want to box again, but now I just want to fight. I need to fight, otherwise all that training would be for nothing.
“I'm heartbroken, but I'm not just going to take it lying down.”
Despite being approached, IABA have yet to comment on the matter.
GERRY Storey's involvement in boxing has spanned seven decades, but the veteran trainer insists he has “never seen the like” of the circumstances that ended Connor Kearney's dream before it had even began.
Along with son Gerry jnr, Storey has helped prepare the 20-year-old for the national U22 championships, with the aim of reaching the Europeans in Romania in March.
“We're badly disappointed,” said the veteran Holy Family coach.
“They'll blame one another but ultimately there's a kid who has been badly let down. Connor had bust his backside trying to make weight for months, training, doing runs up Cave Hill, he had been putting everything into it then you get something like that.
“We're there to look after youths, keep them off the street, keep them straight. I've never seen the like of that.”
Storey had hoped to hold talks with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association about the incident, but wasn't confident about anything being done.
He added: “Most of them down there are sympathetic; a lot of the other officials are disgusted. It's crazy.
“I don't know what they'll do, but to see that kid breaking his heart over the head of something like this, it's not right. It's just not right.
“They forget what kids put into this. I know what Connor has put into it, and it's crazy.”
St Monica's Boxing Club in Newry is to hold a show in Bellini's on Saturday night.
The county Down club, home of Irish number one middleweight Conor Wallace, will face a County Antrim select managed by Star's Liam Corr in a night entitled ‘Fight off the January blues'.
The first fight will take place at 7.30pm, and admission is £5.
THE Antrim 3s got under way last night after 138 boxers weighed in on Sunday.
Tonight (7pm) Girdwood Community Hub
B2 42kg: R Ruddock (BABA) v C Devine (Oliver Plunkett)
B1 31kg: L Hanna (Townland) v Jude Reid (Canal)
B1 39kg K Smith (Glengormley) v D Harrigan (Scorpion)
B1 46kg N Olusanya (Ormeau Road) v Q Morgan (Lisburn)
B2 50kg C McMaster (Carrick BA) v TJ Gallagher (Holy Family)
B2 60kg C Notorantonio (Clonard) v N Sherry (St John Bosco)
G3 50kg: K Gorman (Ashfield) v M McCrea (Emerald)
B3 50kg H Hughes (BABA) v Caolan Braniff (Gleann)
B3 54kg A Brown (Monkstown) v B Reilly (Saints)
G3 57kg I Maguire (Emerald) v R Monaghan (Clonard)
B3 60kg Cn Dickey (Scorpion) v C Sackesen (Oliver Plunkett)
THERE are a number of Ulster boxers in action this weekend as the national men's and women's U22 championships continue at the National Stadium in Dublin.
Camlough's Eugene McKeever, fighting out of the Holy Family club in Drogheda, takes on Kilcullen's Daniel Hoolihan in the welterweight quarter-final on Friday night, while Commonwealth Youth Games gold medallist James McGivern (St George's), Jason McKay (Holy Family, Belfast) and Gleann's Caoimhin Ferguson are among those in semi-final action on Saturday.
McGivern, fighting at lightweight, takes on Shane Flavin (Paulstown), Holy Family, Belfast flyweight McKay faces Mark Corcoran (Corinthians) and Ferguson is in against Matthew McCole at light-welter.
Men's U22 quarter-final
69kg: E McKeever (Holy Family, Drogheda) v D Hoolihan (Kilcullen)
Women's U22 semi-final
48kg: S Sweeney (St Anne's) v C Anderson (Twin Towns)
Men's U22 semi-finals
52kg: M Corcoran (Corinthians) v J McKay (Holy Family)
52kg: J Moore (Glasnevin) v L Moran (Illies GG)
56kg: S Flavin (Paulstown) v J McGivern (St George's)
60kg: M Sammon (Olympic) v S Mooney (St Mary's, Daingean)
60kg: S Lockhart (Baldoyle) v D Duffy (Pegasus)
64kg: M McCole (Dungloe) v C Ferguson (Gleann)
64kg: M Kambule (Lisburn) v K Flavin (Paulstown)
69kg: J Maughan (St Mary's, Dublin) v M Stokes (Darndale)
69kg: JJ Nevin (Mullingar Elite) v E McKeever/D Hoolihan
75kg: K Cassidy (Saviours Crystal) v M Nevin (Portlaoise)
75kg: S McGuirke (Whitechurch) v M Collins (Darndale)
81kg: B Kennedy (St Marys, Daingean) v A Brown (St Michael's, Dublin)
81kg: S Bangu (Dunboyne) v W Rafferty (St Cianan's)
91kg: C Long (Rathkeale) v P McDonnell (Gleann)
91kg: K Sheehy (St Francis's) v G Kavanagh (Glasnevin)
91+kg: J McDonald (Crumlin) v T Carty (Glasnevin)
Women's U22 finals
48kg: C Fleck (Canal) v S Sweeney/C Anderson
54kg: C McComiskey (Gilford) W/O
57kg: T Russell (Fr Horgan's) v N Moorehouse (Clonard, Wexford)
64kg: C O'Neill (Athlone) v C Ginty (Geesala)
69kg: G Walsh (Spartacus) v S O'Grady (St Mary's New Ross)
75kg: C Desmond (Fr Horgan's) W/O
81kg: N Fox (Rathkeale) W/O
81+kg: M McCarron (Carrigart) W/O
THE Irish Athletic Boxing Association is to hold an extraordinary general meeting on Sunday morning to discuss the rule book.
The EGM will be held at the Ringside Club adjacent to the National Stadium in Dublin, and begins at 11am.