The Olympics are edging ever closer and the climax of a long road to redemption approaches for Steven Donnelly.
The Ballymena welterweight, who had grown disillusioned with boxing, was a shock qualifier last Winter for the Rio Games.
Since then he has been building back towards peak condition and fans will be able to catch a glimpse of that tonight at the National Stadium when Ireland take on Russia in a Test International.
Ahead of this evening’s bout, Donnelly spoke to Irish-Boxing.com and told us how “training has been going great. I never stop. Always in good shape.”
“I had a great camp last week with France, some top class sparring with M’billi the 75kg [Christian M’Billi Assomo].”
While he admits that tonight’s scrap “will be like a spar, I wouldnt read too much into it,” Donnelly will still “be looking to put in a good sharp three rounds and look good doing it.”
As with most weights, there is no clear favourite at 69kg. Moroccan WSB and World champion Mohammad Rabii would perhaps be given the edge but there is competition from the likes of Roniel Iglesias (Cuba), Parviz Baghirov (Azerbaijan), Andrey Zamkovoy (Russia), Imre Bacskai (Hungary), and Daniyar Yeleussinov (Kazakhstan), and Eimantas Stanionis (LTU).
The 27 year old knows the challenge he faces in Brazil, agreeing that “there’s not an easy fight at 69 this summer.”
However, Donnelly isn’t feeling too much pressure, explaining how “I wouldn’t watch videos or anything, I go with the flow and don’t care who I get in Rio, it is what it is.”
“The way I see it is that I’m in a win-win situation.”
“I’m going to the Olympics representing my country. It’s going to be fantastic,” before adding that “I’m not going to make up the numbers though, I’ll shock the division in Rio!”
Donnelly certainly will be a shock to many of the division. Amazingly, Donnelly has had “only two or three” Senior bouts international for Ireland. Although the Commonwealth Games bronze medalist doesn’t see this as a disadvantage, and muses that while “it’s crazy that I’ve never been to a Worlds or Europeans, it just shows you I’ve loads to give still.”
The Olympics will be a special moment for Donnelly following a topsy-turvy journey, and the occasion won’t be lost on the ink-mad Ulsterman who has had the Christ The Redeemer statue tattooed onto his forearm. Describing the enormity of the Olympics, the All Saints star said that it “something I’m proud of.”
“The best sporting event on the planet.”
“I never thought I would have got there due to a few circumstances, but I always knew I had the talent.”
“And to get there after what I’ve been through makes it more special.”