Seconds Out: Martin McCullough can show his class on European stage after ending Irish heartache
WORKING the corner of Martin Cullough took Dee Walsh right back to his own amateur days – and he has backed the Gleann pocket rocket to transfer his phenomenal form onto the international stage later this month.
McCullough beat Ballymun’s Cain Lewis in the final of the national open senior cadets to secure his spot on the Irish squad bound for the European junior championships in Romania (May 22-June 2).
That victory ended a run of four consecutive Irish final defeats for the 15-year-old southpaw and Walsh, who retired from the pro game with an unbeaten record of 15-0 before turning his attention to coaching, admits it was as big a thrill as any of his own successes.
“I couldn’t get over the standard down there,” said Walsh, a decorated amateur with Holy Trinity before his switch to the paid ranks.
“It really shocked me the level of opposition down there, all the kids across the weight divisions were really, really good, so when his hand was raised it was some buzz - I haven’t had a buzz like that since winning the All-Irelands myself.
“All the pro fights are good, you get plenty of exposure and all, but see that feeling of winning an All-Ireland, it’s absolutely amazing.
“There’s a big difference in fighting as an amateur and a pro. As a pro, you’re nearly expected to win every fight. That brings more pressure but see when you’re amateur, most of the fights are 50-50 or you’re expected to lose. So when you win, the feeling’s so much better.
“I’m not superstitious but see before I won the All-Irelands, I lost four finals in-a-row, all in the red corner. Before that one, wee Martin had lost four finals in-a-row, all in the red corner.
“The first time I was in the blue corner I won them, and the first time he was in the blue corner he won them. It was amazing.”
It was also a hugely significant win too.
Walsh admits that, had McCullough lost again, it would have left him completely disillusioned with boxing and questioning his own future in the sport.
Instead, he is preparing for the biggest competition of his fledging career after being named as the 57kg option on a 25-fighter squad that will go toe-to-toe with Europe’s finest in Galati.
“If he’d lost that one, a fifth in-a-row, I don’t know if Marty would still be boxing,” said Walsh.
“He’s driven, he’s thinking about these Europeans constantly – about getting a medal. Ruairi Dalton was up training with us and he’s been to a few Europeans and Worlds and he was giving him a bit of advice. I really believe he can do it.
“The wee lads he beat in the semi-final and the final down in Dublin were both European medallists, so he 100 per cent can medal. The thing with Marty is that he’s always fighting people way bigger than him – he’s always the smallest, by far, at the weight.
“But the way he fights, because he is small he actually uses that to his advantage. He gets even smaller, sort of like the way Ryan Burnett fights. He makes people punch down at him so he’s able to set traps.
“Marty can fight but he prefers to box; he makes it an absolute nightmare for his opponents when they come at him. Sometimes he starts a wee bit slow, that would be my only worry, but them when he’s a round down he turns into Lomachenko.
“If you could get Marty to box in the first the way he’s able to in the second and third, he’s capable of anything. Nothing would surprise me.”
And there will be one person in particular in Martin McCullough’s thoughts when he steps between those ropes in Romania.
Three years ago his brother, Paul ‘Cub’ McCullough took his own life, leaving a community stunned. Boxing helped keep his younger sibling focused through some tough times and he McCullough is now beginning to realise his enormous potential.
“Losing his brother had a big effect on him; Marty was only 12 or 13 at the time,” said Walsh.
“When you look at the pictures around the club of Marty before his brother died, he was always smiling and joking about. But since that time, when you look at all Marty’s photos, he’s never smiling.
“Everyone calls him ‘The Bull’ because he’s just such a hard kid. Marty’s father was a youth worker, he knows how to handle kids, and if it wasn’t for him and obviously boxing, God knows what Marty would be doing right now
“He very rarely shows emotion, so it was great to see him really celebrate when he won that Irish title. You could see what it meant to him.”
46kg: B Quilligan (Rathkeale); 48kg: R Kelly (Ballynacargy); 50kg: M Marine-Gabriel (Mulhuddart); 52kg: R Lawless (Portlaoise); 54kg: A Butler (Monivea); 57kg: N O’Sullivan (Corinthians); 60kg: S Myers (Crumlin); 63kg: W McDonagh (Neilstown); 66kg: T Farrell (Arklow); 70kg: S Doherty (Sacred Heart, Dublin); 75kg: D Tinnelly (Clann Naofa); 80kg: M Stokes (Callan)
46kg: D Eagleson (St Paul’s); 48kg: M Donoghue (St Michael’s, Athy); 50kg: J Nevin (Olympic Mullingar); 52kg: D Keary (Rathfriland); 54kg: M Edris (Monkstown, Dublin); 57kg: M McCullough (Gleann); 60kg: M McCarthy (Mayfield); 63kg: T King (Ratoath); 66kg: T Guiney (Drimnagh); 70kg: E Lavin (Ballyhaunis); 75kg: M Duffy (Charlestown); 80kg: J Ward (Brosna); 80+kg: T McDonnell (Docklands)
Team managers: G O’Mahony, A Murphy. Coaches: B McClean, J Doyle, G McDaid, J Gallagher, A Hennigan. R&J: L Gannon