Seconds Out: McConnell hopes Paris Olympic bid will be worth the weight
THE first steps on the road to rebuilding, and banishing the memories of a year to forget, begin for Jon McConnell in Barcelona this weekend – with Paris 2024 fixed firmly in his sights.
Indeed, so focused is the Holy Trinity teenager on the next Olympic Games that he has jumped straight from the 63.5kg weight class to 71kg, putting McConnell on a potential collision course with Olympic bronze medallist and recent Commonwealth Games podium-topper Aidan Walsh as the race for Paris begins.
It is a bold move from the 19-year-old, but one he felt was necessary after coming out the wrong side of 3-2 split decisions against Brandon McCarthy and Jack McGivern at the Irish and Ulster elites respectively, defeats that would throw best laid plans to the side.
“I was very disappointed,” said McConnell, who is part of a County Antrim team including Padraig Downey (St John Bosco), Rory Lavery (Holy Family), JP Hale (Star) and Emerald’s Jake Tucker heading for Il Torneo Internacional De La Amistad multi-nations tournament in Barcelona this weekend.
“It was very hard to take because I had the whole year set out – World Championships, Commonwealths, European U22s. I had it all planned out, but it just didn’t fall into place.
“I mean, I cried for months and months after missing out on the Commonwealths. It genuinely did mean that much to me. I had boards written up, on my social media, 300 days to gold… all that kind of stuff.
“My mummy and daddy, and [Holy Trinity coach] Mickey Hawkins, thankfully kept my head on it because there were times I was close to just throwing the head up and saying ‘f**k this’. It was that bad, but I don’t want to waste what I have.
“I know where I am now, I know that I’m good enough, and I’m going to give these Olympics a real whack. This is the big one.”
Walsh has proved himself one of the best in the world, easing past a succession of opponents to claim Commonwealth gold in Birmingham last month, and would be considered a serious medal contender again should he qualify for Paris.
But, with the Irish elites scheduled for January 2023, marking the beginning of the Olympic qualification process, McConnell is not the only one who will have designs of pushing Walsh for the 71kg spot.
“I’ve been working on different stuff, so if there’s anyone to do it, it’s going to be me, I know that.
“He’s very good at what he does, but I’m good at what I do.”
Losing out to eventual champion James McDonagh at the Irish U22 championships in January was the final straw for McConnell, with so much of this year so far dedicated to building himself into his new weight class.
Standing six foot tall, and having grown and developed in recent years, the Ulster University student knew he was only ever on borrowed time at light-welter.
“By the time I was fighting, I was wrecked,” he said.
“In sparring I was dynamite, then when it came to the fight I had no energy. There was nothing there. It caught up with me, losing out in those 3-2 splits [against McCarthy and McGivern].
“My last fight at 63.5 was earlier this year, and after it I said I’m never doing that again. From then until now I’ve just been doing strength and conditioning and explosive work. I’m fighting at 71 because that’s the weight for the Olympics, so I’m not wasting time at 67 kilos if I’m going to be serious about the Olympics.
“That’s why I’ve made the decision to move up now. Nobody loves boxing more than I do, and when it was taking that love away a wee bit, I knew it was time to do something different.
“The best I ever fought was in the U18s championships a few years ago - I had been fighting at 54 but moved up two weights to 60 and cleaned up. No-one could get near me.
“This is going to be a carbon copy.”
CANAL SHOW RAISES £5,000 FOR TINYLIFE CHARITY
CANAL Boxing Club in Lisburn has raised £5,000 for TinyLife after hosting a boxing bonanza at the Europa Hotel on Saturday night.
Over 300 people filled the ballroom where eight fights featured Canal boxers up against opponents from the Rathfriland, St John Bosco, Phoenix, St Patrick’s, Newry, Midland, Scorpion, Camlough and Kronk clubs.
Mal Scott, Chris McCrory, Bert Moore and Mickey O’Neill refereed on the night, with JP Turley, Lee Cochrane and Laura Clarke judging.
Saturday was just the latest in a series of charity events the club has run, and Canal coach Jim Russell was delighted to raise such a big amount.
“Before Covid we would have run an event every two years, and thankfully this was a big success,” he said.
“There was probably 10 months of planning went into it, my wife Nicola did most of it to be fair, and I’d like to give a big thanks to everybody who helped out.
“It was a brilliant night, all the fights were very well contested, and we’ll look forward to the next one.”
TinyLife was this year’s chosen charity because of the help they provided Canal’s Tokyo Olympian Kurt Walker and girlfriend Ria Hanna after their daughter Layla was born three months early in May 2020, weighing just 800 grams.
When she was two weeks old, doctors warned the Lisburn couple that their daughter had six hours to improve “or she wouldn’t make it” – but Layla, now a happy, thriving two-year-old, showed that her dad isn’t the only fighter in the family.
“They’re a great organisation,” said Russell.
“Obviously they were a big help to Kurt and his family, so we are happy to help out in any way we can.”
GILFORD TO HOST JIMMY FEENEY MEMORIAL SHOW
GILFORD ABC hosts its Jimmy Feeney memorial club show at the Banville House Hotel on Friday night.
Guest of honour will be Feeney’s old foe from the 1975 Irish final, Damien McDermott, with the Derry man meeting the Feeney family for the first time in almost 50 years. He will be joined at ringside by Banbridge boxing legend Eamonn McCusker, so there are sure to be some interesting stories shared.
Both men will run the rule over the 18 contests on show, picking boxers of the night - home and away – as well as handing out trophies, with Laurencetown celebrity Seamus O’Hare making his debut as MC.
Doors open at 7pm, with boxing getting under way at 8pm. Tickets £10 for adults, £5 for U16s.