The Galway lightweight packs a ferocious punch – previously winning the 2016 Irish-Boxing.com KO of the Year – and showed a glimpse of that in the opening round of his semi-final last weekend with a knockdown of Adam Kelly. Cleary though is keen to prove his skill, and revealed afterwards that he deliberately stood off his semi-final opponent in the second and third rounds.
Cleary explained to Irish-Boxing.com how “I showed a little bit of power in the first round, but it didn’t get to my head, I didn’t go for the stoppage, I just wanted to show my class and get the three rounds out of the way.”
“In my younger days, if that happened in the first round, I’d go and try stop him in the second, that’s what I’m known for. But I’m a different person now and a different boxer.”
“I just stuck to the gameplan. I wanted to show my skill as a boxer. I know how to fight and stand toe-to-toe and fight all day long. But, deep down, I am a brilliant boxer and I just wanted to show my skill, and that’s what I did.”
Now fighting out of the Dick Hearns gym in Ballina under Nicolas Cruz, Cleary is firing on all cylinders following a transitioning 2017.
The European Junior silver medalist outlined how “I was down at bantamweight last year for the Elite Championships.”
“It took a lot out of me, I lost a lot of weight for it, I’m stronger and happier at 60kg.
“This is my first Elite Senior final, I’ve had this dream since I was 11 years old. I was always watching it on telly, year after year on TG4 and saying to myself ‘I want to be there someday’.”
“I have achieved my goal, but it’s not achieved fully yet, it will be achieved when I become Senior Elite champion.”
To become champion, Cleary must defeat Dubliner George Bates in the decider. The skilful St Mary’s man will be hoping that fourth time’s the charm having finished runner-up thrice before – including last year when he was defeated by Cleary’s former clubmate at Olympic BC, Pat Mongan, a result he reversed in the corresponding semi last weekend.
Cleary is familiar with the Tallaght fighter and has previously lost to him, but he believes it will be a very different fight tomorrow night.
The Connacht youngster explained how “I boxed George Bates in the Celtic Box Cup, he beat me on a split-decision, but I wasn’t myself, I wasn’t training probably, I had only been training about three weeks.”
“Credit to George, he’s a brilliant lad and it’s going to be a brilliant final. I need to perform to my best to get the decision over him.”
“I’m confident going in to every fight and I think I’ll be okay, but George is a good lad and anything could happen on the day – it’s the way you perform on the night.”