LIttle and Large

03 November 2008 – By Kevin Byrne

You could be forgiven for expecting Con Sheehan to be a bit nervous before his first major tournament with the Irish senior team at the European Championships in Liverpool next week.

The Tipperary heavyweight will be up against some of the hardest punchers in amateur boxing – but its something he appears to relish.

The 19-year-old from Clonmel is sure that after facing the best Ireland has to offer in sparring, he can take on anyone. Still, the division at the moment is strong in Europe, with an Olympic final contested in Beijing between Russian Rakhim Chakhkiev and Italys Clemente Russo. In a low-scoring final, the former edged it 4-2.

Speaking to he said that he was an interested spectator back home.

I watched all the lads in my weight over in the Olympics, the Italian and the Russian were in the final, he said.

I dont really rate the two of them skill-wise, but the two of them were wicked strong. And theyre all packing a few years on me as well, and I know in two or three years time Ill be able to hold my own with them no bother.

Inspired by Irelands Olympic silver medalist Kenny Egan, Sheehan intends to use his skill and speed, in expectation that strength will come with maturity. His pedigree is demonstrated in a post-sparring session with light welterweight John Joe Joyce. The lads, messing around, play a speed-based game where the scores come from quick taps to the knees and the shoulders. And Sheehans reach delivers a result the St Michaels man would rather forget.

The step up to the seniors, it would seem, has made him come into his own.

Yeah I feel Ive made the step up no bother at all, I was here training for a year as a junior up here with the seniors. I was sparring Kenny and (Darren) Sutherland the whole time so I knew what it was about, Id have to be able to take a punch. I was at a European Championship before at junior level but never at senior. I was at the cadets. Last year as juniors, myself John Joe Nevin and Mark McCullough were fighting for a medal but I felt hard done by with the judging, the three of us did but it seems to be getting better every year.

Flyweight Conor Ahern is little to Sheehans large. The Baldoyle clubman, 24, is set to compete in his third European Championships on Merseyside. Having also been to three Worlds, experience is on his side on this youthful team.

It should be nice with these ones being so close to home, he told

Im excited enough, like training is going well and please God we can take a few medals home and keep the momentum going. Now this sport is getting so much publicity with the boys doing so well in Beijing, so please God we can keep the flag flying high now. As well, its only across the water, its a home away from home. Ive been to Liverpool a few times now, Ive boxed over there. Its not like were going off to Eastern Europe where the food would be different and the accommodation not as good. Everything should be kool and the gang over in Liverpool.

As for his own preparations, Ahern has missed his sparring sessions with Paddy Barnes in the run up to the tournament. However, he has working instead with slightly heavier guys instead to improve his overall strength.

I think Paddy did the right thing taking the break out, the Olympics and the Europeans are a bit too close and you need a bit of a break, I think it was a good move. A lot of the Olympians might have taken breaks which might open the door a bit too. I havent really lost a sparring partner either because I still spar with bantams Ryan Lindberg and John Joe Nevin; hes been in sparring as well. If Paddy was here I would be sparring him, but the man needs a rest you know what I mean?

As a senior member of the squad, Ahern is rightly placed to judge the progress of some of the squads newer members. And he is pleased with what he sees.

The lads are fitting in nicely. The team is young but its experienced enough. The training camp this week will be tough. Itll be a bit of a change, well get a bit of sparring with the English and the French, we know the fellas and its always the same lads that are going round the block. Itll be just what we need the last week before the competition. Youre mostly just watching the weight and not overdoing it. Its hard, and always a struggle, but every flyweight fighter is in the same boat, its just part and parcel and you have to get on with it.

After watching his former team-mate Darren Sutherland turn professional, Sheehan sees big things ahead for the Saviours man.

Hes gonna have a few early stoppages, I tell ya. I think its a good deal for him, I think its a good move as well. Hes fighting on December 18 in DCU hopefully Ill make it up, if were not boxing ourselves. Id say hell put a few lads away in the first few fights as well, his style is so suited to pro, we all know hes going to do well there. His style is made for the professional game, but me, I would be more suited to amateur. Id be more skill than power; the power is going to come as I get older.

And to stress the point that he sees his future as Irelands No 1 amateur heavyweight, Sheehan tells of how he rebuffed the chance to spar with Cork-based Cuban Mike Perez, who has made a blistering start to his career in Ireland. The former world junior champ has five first-round stoppages from six pro fights, and his team have contacted Sheehans people in Clonmel to try and organise some joint training sessions. But Sheehan could not be any less interested.

I was asked to go down to the Cuban lad in Cork to spar with him but thats the pro game. Some of them rang up my coach, me being from Clonmel – but that game has nothing got to do with me, Im not interested at all. Im really looking forward to going to Liverpool; its a big chance to test myself. Thats what Im about.

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