Ground-breaker Brennan predicts best yet as Paul Hyland prepares for delayed British title challenge as Sean McComb refocuses on win against Gwynne

Paul Hyland junior's British lightweight title clash with Liam Smith has been delayed for four weeks
Andy Watters

AS ONE of the few (if not the only) women working at the coalface of boxing, Belfast strength-and-conditioning and rehab therapy coach Emma Brennan says it has taken years for her to gain the trust of fighters and managers in the male-dominated sport.

Brennan has worked successfully with world lightweight contender James Tennyson as well as fledgling professional James McGivern and over the last few months she has been busy helping Paul Hyland jnr prepare for his postponed British lightweight battle against Liam Walsh.

But her work with the likes of Tennyson and McGivern was in their recovery after fights, now she is preparing ‘Hylo’ for his rumble with Walsh and that is a welcome and long-awaited transfer to the frontline of the sport.

Strength and conditioning coach Emma Brennan

“The majority of work I do with boxers was on the rehab side of things and it’s only now that I’m getting their trust as a female strength coach,” explained Emma, who works with elite athletes at Alpha High Performance.

“It’s difficult, I don’t know if there are any other females out there who have the opportunity to train a fighter towards a title fight, so it’s a hugely-privileged position for me to be in – to be able to have a boxer’s team trust in me that I’m only going to make the fighter stronger.

“Paul’s dad told me that I should have taken it (the strength coaching role) on years ago so it’s a huge privilege. I really do think it’s difficult for women in a male-dominated sport to get an opportunity but I think Paul is starting to see the pay-off from working with me.

“You’d like to see more women involved in boxing and I’d like to think that it’s just starting.”

Originally scheduled for February 19 in Bolton (now the date and venue for fellow Belfast lightweight Sean McComb's Commonwealth title clash against Gavin Gwynne) Hyland-Walsh has been postponed after Walsh (23-1) tested positive for Coronavirus – Hyland himself has recovered from the virus. Brennan is confident that four-week delay will benefit her fighter.

“I’d worked with Paul for eight years doing all his rehab work,” she explained.

“Because I’m a strength coach his dad (Paul senior) thought it was a good idea for me to take on his strength work because he wasn’t where he wanted to be. Since then we’ve done a lot of work with him and, honestly, he’s now doing reps with weights he couldn’t even have lifted before. His strength has come on leaps and bounds and he’s punching harder than he ever did before.

“Yes, we would have loved the fight to go ahead because he would have been completely on point and ready for it but this delay gives him four more weeks of preparation and we’re ok with that.”

By late 2017, Hyland junior had taken his record to 17-0 and was the holder of the IBF European lightweight belt but a devastating knockout loss to Lewis Ritson in a British title challenge on the Geordie’s home patch in June 2018 was a setback that he has yet to recover from. He lost to Francesco Patera in Milan in June 2019 and hasn’t fought since, but Brennan is confident that Hyland will return better than ever.

“I was at the Ritson fight and I think Paul is a different animal now,” she said.

“If you don’t win, you learn and I think the Ritson loss might have been one of the best learning experiences of his life.

“Paul has a baby on the way and he wants to make the most of his career and I think we will see him at his strongest against Liam Walsh. I don’t think there’s a better opportunity for Paul to make a career for himself than right now.”

AFTER the disappointment that his Commonwealth lightweight title fight against Gavin Gwynne – scheduled for Dubai this weekend - had been called off, Sean McComb has quickly been able to reset his sights on meeting the Welshman on February 19.

A skilful piece of rescheduling means that McComb-Gwynne tops the bill in Bolton which will also feature Dubliner Pierce O’Leary’s clash with Irvin Magno as well as Paddy Donovan.

And while the date and the venue have changed, the challenge remains the same and so does the prize – the coveted Commonwealth title and the opportunities it will present for the man who has it wrapped around his waist in Bolton.

Gwynne was blasted out by James Tennyson’s power but McComb admits he was impressed by what he saw from the Welshman in that fight. Ultimately he didn’t have the sting in his own punches to keep Tennyson at bay but McComb’s boxing style may actually suit him better.

“I watched the Tennyson fight and it was a good performance from both of them,” said McComb (11-0).

“The power from Tennyson just showed in the mid-rounds but I think that if Gwynne (12-1) had a wee bit more sting in his punches it could have been a very different story.

“So I’m well aware of his durability and his boxing ability and I’m prepared to go 12 rounds with him. I’ve worked very hard in this camp, I know it’s going to be a tough test for me so early in my career.

“I’m expecting a good tough fight, I’ve got a different style to Tennyson and it’ll be interesting to see how Gwynne works with a boxer.”

The distress on Gwynne’s face was obvious by the middle rounds and Tennyson dropped him and then finished him off with a brutal two-handed assault. It says a lot about Gwynne’s mental toughness that he has been able to bounce straight back into another Commonwealth title scrap after Tennyson vacated the belt.

“I don’t think it (losing to Tennyson) takes anything out of him,” he said.

“In fact, I think it makes him better because I think he knows what his style is now. Before he didn’t go forward, he couldn’t go forward against Tennyson, he could only go back because James wouldn’t allow his to go forward. Therefore, he knows now that he’s better on the front foot and he’ll take that approach into this fight against me.

“I’m fully expecting that and I’m very aware that, with my boxing ability, that suits me down to the ground.”

McComb may not have got to fight in Dubai but a week in the sun will have done him no harm. Life has changed for the former Holy Trinity ABC amateur star this year and, after his partner gave birth to their first child, McComb says he has a family to fight for now.

“Life is a bit different now – it’s crazy what a few months can do!” he said

“It gives you a wee bit more fire in your belly, I can definitely feel that. It gives me a completely different type of hunger now because I have a young family to provide for so the determination I have in everything I do now is not just for me, it’s for my family.”

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