Craig O’Brien – Inside the mind of a hesitant champion

A rain soaked Craig O’Brien jogged through the streets of Inner City Dublin dreaming of his stairway to heaven.

He dreamt of climbing into the ring that takes centre stage in the first purpose-built boxing stadium in the World and fighting his way to the Irish title success that he felt he had the ability to achieve as an amateur.

Fast forward three years and the dream has come true.

“I feel amazing, literally this feels amazing. This is the Irish title so I am now the best in Ireland. Listen I know people say this but I jogged three years ago on rainy nights dreaming of coming out into that ring in there, climbing those red steps and lifting this title. Hard work paid off,” O’Brien [8(0)-0] told after his points win over the game Jay Byrne earlier this month.

“I grew up looking at people winning titles like this – to this is amazing.”

It was a brilliant moment for ‘The Iron’ and one that played out live on national TV, an occurrence that should boost his profile to no end.

There was no better way to live a dream. However, when you converse with a fighter blessed with a natural talent, you get the feeling when O’Brien dreamt of Irish title success it wasn’t in that positive visualization way the likes of Michael Conlan and Conor McGregor speak of.

You suspect the Paschal Collins-trained fighter expected to go through a period of purgatory before he successfully navigated aforementioned stairway to heaven.

The Northsider, who in fairness had to overcome 17 months out across 2015 and 2016, may have picked up BUI Celtic and Irish titles in the past year, but repeatedly admits to creating doubts for himself.

It’s a habit that endears the Irish Champion to his following and more neutral fight fans, but is an issue if addressed could see him kick on.

It’s not that the 28-year-old stylist isn’t aware he has talent – a ringside Roddy Collins described as ‘Tony Sheridan like’ with the former Bohs manager pointing out ‘it comes so natural to him he doesn’t have to process what he is doing’ – rather he just has a habit of building up his foes before big fights.

“I said to that if I got in there and I outboxed him it wouldn’t surprise me. Now I wasn’t saying cocky like that I was going to box the ears of him I was saying it tends to happen that I come to the dressing room after and I am thinking that was easier than I expected,” O’Brien added before throwing in a caveat.

“I have to start believing in myself. I think oh ‘this fella does this or can do that well’. I have to stop that. I don’t think about what I can do. I have to do that more.”

“When I got in there and stuck to my boxing it was handy enough, to be honest. The only way I could have lost in there was if I lost it [the head]. I had to tell myself that. Now it was tough at times, Jay is tough and he kept coming. A sledgehammer wouldn’t have stopped him.”

“I am only starting and it’s about believing in myself a bit more now.”

O’Brien seems to be leaning toward another learning fight before making a defence – which may be warranted after a a fast-paced 10 rounder.

However, he seems aware that with talk TG4 are eager to go again he may not be afforded the chance.

“I have a lot to learn, but I have a European ranking now. Who knows? TG4 are on board I could get a European title fight within the next 12 months. Look I’ll take a holiday now with the family and we will see after.”

“I would like an eight-rounder next unless there is a big fight. I feel I am a bit ahead of my time. I am only 12 months back after that break and I have picked up two belts so I wouldn’t mind an eight-rounder next.”

“Then again you can get done over eight rounds just as easily as you can over 10. What do you do? We will see what way it unfolds.”

Regardless of what unfolds in the future the owner of two belts will always have Saturday night. O’Brien will never forget what he achieved on the Last Man Standing card nor will he forget the people who helped him through tough times and got him there.

“There was a bit of doubt for a while [when O’Brien didn’t fight for over a year] but big props to Red Corner they asked me to comeback last Christmas and they have delivered on their promises. I put the hard work in and I fought the fights, took the opportunities they gave me. I am after picking up two titles. I am over the moon,” he continued.

“It was a great feeling to win an Irish title and have an Irish dust-up. I hope the Irish public enjoyed it.”

“I never won an Irish amateur title at any level. I got to the final and a kid called John Murray from Kildare, he beat when I was 14 or 15 maybe. I won Leagues, Leinsters, Dublins, them all, but never the Irish. I would have loved to stay amateur to see when I would have gone, but I left.”

“Listen if I hadn’t have left I wouldn’t have met the bird and had kids so I can’t complain that’s life and look whats over my shoulder now.

“I honestly have to say a big thank you to Pascal and the team, Niall Byrne too. ‘Fats’ started me off years ago and got me back boxing. Also everyone that put the work in at the start when I was only back in the game they are important too. Thanks to the fans and family that came to support me too I can’t say how much that means.”

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)


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