Boxing

Middle Eastern promise will do for Murphy in midst of pandemic

The 2020 Ulster final clash between Colm Murphy and JP Hale brought the crowd to its feet at the end of an unforgettable night in the Ulster Hall. Picture by Mark Marlow
Neil Loughran

IT’S coming up on a year since one of the most unforgettable nights of Colm Murphy’s life yet he, like so many other young boxers across Ireland, has no idea what the future holds.

At the end of February 2020, Murphy and bantamweight rival JP Hale were elevated to top-of-the-bill status at Ulster Elite finals night. On the back of two electrifying showdowns the year previous, the pressure was on – and they didn’t disappoint.

Once again it was Star man Hale who had his hand raised when all was said and done, but Murphy left the famous old venue that night buzzing about the months ahead. Little did he know those would be the last competitive punches he would throw in anger for some time.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck a couple of weeks later, amateur boxing ground to a halt. Plans to hold an Irish Elite Championships this month were optimistically unveiled in the autumn. Murphy, a ferocious trainer, got his head down and worked towards that date.

It came as no surprise when those championships were culled before Christmas, yet the St George’s ace hasn’t stopped working and, in recent weeks, hasn’t stopped sparring.

At the start of 2021 Murphy travelled out to Dubai to stay with an uncle, and will make an unlikely return to the ring on the undercard of Steven Ward’s exhibition bout with former World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson on Friday.

And with uncertainty still rife back home, the 20-year-old has no idea when he will be back.

“It was a one-way ticket so we’ll see how things go; I can stay here for as long as I want really,” said Murphy.

“It’s my birthday on the 21st, we’re going to the Conor McGregor fight over in Abu Dhabi and then I’ll see. It really depends what the situation is back home, if there’s no boxing, no clubs open to come back for, then I’m not sure.

“I was training away for the Irish elites, helping James McGivern get ready for one of his pro fights, but I don’t know when the amateur scene is going to come back.

“It’s mad. After the Ulster Elites I was running on a high, even though I lost in the final. I felt very proud of myself, we got upgraded to the main event, and when I got back to Liverpool for university I was getting ready for the ABA national championships.

“But then they were cancelled and I ended up on the ferry home. Even then you’re thinking ‘I’ll be back in Liverpool in two weeks, I just have to ride this out’ but, apart from going back to get my stuff, that’s been it.

“I’m very lucky, we were able to set up a heavy bag out my back and there was a whole area for me to train away, but boxers are used to building towards something. Over the last couple of years I’ve been fighting every month nearly.

“I just had to learn new ways and adapt. I got a job at Deliveroo, I got a bike and was bringing people their food, which was a big change from topping the bill at the Ulster Hall a few weeks earlier!

“It was good though, I was also training other people and found I really liked that. That’s something I definitely see myself doing for the rest of my life.”

Since the start of the year, though, he has been keeping himself sharp in the desert gyms of Dubai.

Last week he did some rounds with welterweight prospect Moaz Allam, while at the weekend Murphy had his eyes opened during a session with former two-time WBO light-flyweight World champion Paul Weir.

“He’s a boxing technique expert,” said Murphy.

“I’ve never done pads with someone as attentive to fixing the basics - I was honestly shocked at the amount of faults he pointed out to me and things I could do better.”

Yet while he might be picking up tips from a former pro, Murphy has no join the paid ranks just yet.

“I’ve been thinking about my future a lot and it is definitely in boxing, it’s done me right so far. If I didn’t turn pro at some point, there’d probably be a lot of regret. But you can always pick the wrong time to turn pro.

“People were onto me after the elites, I did have offers on the table, but honestly I think I’m too young. I’ve got my uni degree to focus on first, I want to get that out of the way because when I do turn pro, I want to be able to fully commit to it.”

University has provided a different kind of challenge in these unusual times too. On the day that we spoke, Murphy was sitting an exam as part of his quantity surveying degree at John Moore’s university.

Doing that remotely, as opposed to day to day life in Liverpool, has been “hard to adjust to”.

“I struggle with learning difficulties and it’s required a bit of getting used to, but the university knows my situation. You just have to get on with it.

“Boxing has been a big help. Before I started boxing in third year I couldn’t even sit still. I’d have the shakes almost. I had no concentration whatsoever, but then I went from all fails to getting the majority passes, I passed all my GCSEs. I’d still be a bit hyperactive but I’m more chilled with it, so it has helped.

“I wasn’t that I was stupid, I just couldn’t settle down, I wasn’t motivated, I hadn’t found anything that really made me feel good about myself. I’d nothing in my life to show that I’d worked for, and that’s what boxing really did for me.

“Even in Methody, people were like ‘who are you to do boxing?’ I don’t hold a grudge against those people at all, I’m glad they doubted me and I want to continue proving people wrong.”

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Boxing