Mind games provided Craig O’Brien with lightbulb moment on the morning of Irish title fight

The stakes were higher, the attention was greater, and the pace was relentless, but Craig O’Brien was able for Jay Byrne.

The pair faced off for the vacant Irish light middleweight title on Saturday night in a Dublin derby which captured the imagination.

Shown live on TG4, the National Stadium-hosted clash was viewed as near enough to a 50-50. Many felt silkily skilled O’Brien would start strong before a second-half charge from the ultra-fit Byrne.

The Paschal Collins-trained O’Brien did indeed bank the early rounds, but then went on to take the middle rounds, and then some of the late rounds for a relatively wide win [99-92, 98-92, 98-92 on judges’ scorecards].

It was impressive from ‘The Iron’ who stuck to boxing on the outside, mixing in some sharp combos, against the tireless Byrne who did finish strong.

“When I got in their and stuck to my boxing it was handy enough to be honest,” he told Irish-Boxing.com

“Now, it was tough at times. Jay is tough and he kept coming. A sledgehammer wouldn’t have stopped him,” he added before noting some use of the head from Byrne – who has stated firmly was completely unintentional.

“He was a dirt bird in there,” smirked O’Brien. “That’s the game and a compliment, I suppose, I knew that getting in there.”

“When he was doing that it just confirmed I am doing things right. If he is angry, I am winning.”

“It was a tough fight at times. I felt I could have thrown more shots, but Paschal kept telling me to stick to the plan. I was doing it with the jab and punishing him when he was over-reaching.”

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

The charismatic Byrne had earlier in the week attempted to plant seeds of doubt in the mind of O’Brien – as well as perhaps verbally reaffirm his own confidence – with he Loughlinstown puncher outlining why he should have been the favourite for the title fight.

However, in a testament to his increasing confidence and mental strength, O’Brien used these words to boost himself rather than to fuel doubt.

The Celtic Warriors fighter described how “I saw Jay had on your site today that he should have been favourite. Well in my eyes he shouldn’t.”

“He was saying I was put down, this that and the other. He said he would knock me out, but I knew Jay quit against [Anthony] Fowler, let’s be honest.”

“I got put down and I got up and won. I just said ‘you quit, I didn’t, I have fight in me’. I knew then I had the bottle to win it if it got tough. Again, I am not digging him, he is a gent, but this meant too much to me.”

“Obviously Irish-Boxing.com sold the fight and with it being a Dublin derby it was going to be a great atmosphere and that. I sat at home this morning and I said to myself ‘Jay had his night’. He had his moment winning a derby against [Gerard] Whitehouse and this was going to be mine.”

It’s been a startling turnaround for OBrien has vaulted through the levels over the past year, picking up BUI Celtic and Irish titles.

The Dubliner notes, correctly, that at 8-0 he is a relatively low-experience Irish champion and cited a desire to develop before moving to the next level – suggesting in the ring afterward that he will drop down for his next fight before looking to defend his belt.

However, with his appearance on TG4 proving a big success, O’Brien may see himself nudged onto the fast-track.

He outlined how “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.”

“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.”

Look I’ll take a holiday now with the family and we will see after,” added the likeable Dub who jetted off this morning with his family to Disneyworld Florida.

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


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