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Joe O’Neill – My first year with Irish-Boxing.com

Earlier this year I began writing with irish-boxing.com and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

With a brilliant 2015 coming to a close, and an even better 2016 in the pipeline, I’ve decided to sit back and chronicle my first year with the site.

Thanks to Bernard Dunne’s RTÉ adventures I had long been a big fan of boxing, however age and a lack of like-minded friends had limited my attendance at professional pugilism shows to zero. That was until last November at the Point when, as luck would have had it, I won two tickets via this very site to attend the ‘Return of the Mack’ show in Dublin.

While Macklin would lose in the main event against Jorge Heiland, that night saw boxing firmly take over as my favourite sport.

Therefore when irish-boxing.com put out an advertisement for new writers a few weeks later I decided to take the plunge and put my name forward. Armed solely with a growing, albeit superficial, knowledge of Irish boxing following years of reading the site and observing forums, I had my first article published in January.

It would continue that way throughout the remainder of my final year in college, with me having one list-type feature article published a week. This all then changed in the Summer when, unburdened by Sociology, I was able to attend my first press conference – which also saw me meet Jonny and Derek, the men behind the site, for the first time. For literally the first occasion in my life I was able to talk at length with two other boxing nerds.

The press conference itself was for MGM Promotions’s debut offering, ‘New Beginning,’ and I was immediately struck by how nice each and every boxer was. No primadonnas, just a bunch of friendly lads, they were all real people (and all way smaller in person than the YouTube videos of them knocking seven shades of shite out of opponents would have you believe!).

From the press conference it was on to the weigh-in and then, on July 4th, the actual show at the National Stadium. Between ringside seats, regular runs out to the changing rooms to observe Derek’s video interviews, and witnessing the visceral glory and unbelievable atmosphere of Jamie Conlan’s headline win over Junior Granados – it was a brilliant night.

Somehow I was consumed even more by the boxing bug.

Around this time also saw the start of my transition away from weekly lists in two ways: I had by then developed the skill to write a proper feature piece, and I was given the ‘keys to the site’ which allowed me to publish news articles myself as I happened upon them. I was soon publishing at least five stories a day.

Then began weekly Monday shifts in the irish-boxing.com HQ (initially in Whitehall, now in Kimmage). Increasingly early starts didn’t bother me at all and I would bounce out of bed excited to write and talk boxing with two lads who, by now, I was good mates with. The saying “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life” comes to mind,

Although, my first shift didn’t entirely go to plan – firstly I forgot a laptop to actually write and publish on, and I was then thrown in the deep end by Mr. Stapleton who made me do my first interview with a boxer. Over the phone, I chatted to rising light welterweight star Phil Sutcliffe Junior. While I now know him to be one of the nicest and knowledgeable boxers on the circuit, back then he was just the softly-spoken yet intimidating animal who was ripping through any opponents brave enough to step in the ring with him. Questions prepared about an upcoming bout, my interview was immediately thrown into disarray when the frustrated Dubliner told me that he had just sustained a minor knuckle injury and would have to withdraw. Panicked, I had a hurried chat on-the-fly with ‘Sucko’ which, while probably good for me in the long run, scared the absolute bejaysus out of me.

Between shows in Belfast and Dublin I would get to know the tightly-knit Irish boxing writers community. From journalistic heavyweights Kev Byrne and Ciaran Gallagher, boxing encyclopedia Steve Wellings, well-travelled seanchaí Eamon Carr, and the Belfast charm of David Mohan – all have been accommodating, helpful, and inclusive despite my lack of experience or qualification.

Shows, press conferences, and regular trips to the Celtic Warriors Gym in Corduff also allowed me to get to know the boxers themselves. I can even understand a Belfast accent now, and following the MGM ‘Second Coming’ show in November I was dragged to Coppers by Paddy Barnes and the Conlan brothers. A bizarre evening.

However, my favourite moment of the year actually happened at a show the previous night in the Red Cow Hotel where I was sought out by heavyweight gentleman Niall Kennedy (the headliner of the show!) who wanted to personally congratulate me on my graduation from college – what other sport in the World would you get that in?

The year has seen my boxing knowledge grow exponentially, and in October I actually got to make a real journalistic contribution, revealing that Steven Donnelly had a previously-unknown (by Donnelly and the Irish authorities) chance of qualifying for the Olympics. The story allowed Donnelly to begin to get in shape in anticipation of the December decision, and with the Olympic spot now secure, Donnelly is in a much more prepared position ahead of Rio that he would have been if we hadn’t broke the story.

My confidence has also grown, gone are the days of my disastrous Phil Sutcliffe interview and I recently covered the National Championship for the site and had no problems formulating questions on spot following the action and interviewing the boxers involved as well as those in the crowd.

Alas, my role in the site has diminished in recent weeks with my acquisition of a full-time job. Nevertheless my passion for the sport and the site is at an all-time high – and I can now be found on the 7:35am train frantically writing one or two stories before I get to work.

So with 2015 about to finish, I would like to thank all the Irish boxers that I have had the pleasure of meeting this year, the boxing writers family, and most of all Jonny and Derek for allowing me to contribute to this great site.

2016 will be even better.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie