05 November 2009 – By Alex McGreevy
All his life Martin Rogan has been fighting. Fighting for recognition. Fighting for his place at the table. Fighting for a moment of praise that was hard to come by in a working class six-boy family of eight children being raised on West Belfasts troubled streets.
Martin Rogan, in his 38 years, could claim to have seen it all.
He has witnessed mayhem, heartbreak and grief. He has experienced stress, depression and anxiety. He was always fighting for a way out and an inner peace.
Life isnt easy when your born punching into the wind.
And for all his battling, Martin Rogan never thought he would find his peace by fighting – literally. It wasnt until the former taxi driver hit a punch-bag for the first time at 29 years of age that Rogan felt his frustration leave him and his hope embrace him.
Rogie was once in a dark place. He doesnt claim to be unique nor seek sympathy for his “difficult youth” but wants to sing and dance about how rewarding life can be “when you put your mind to something”.
It is 10 years since Rogan conditioned his mind to learn the noble art from which he now draws a living. Riches are within reach if he can overcome Sam Sexton at the Odyssey Arena on Friday and take back from the Englishman the Commonwealth Heavyweight title he controversially lost in May.
His story is real-life Rocky.
“Im no different to many men of my age who grew up in Belfast,” he said. “Life was tough, very tough. You dont get much down time when there are seven other siblings in the house and the streets are packed with kids battling for a step on the ladder.
“I am so in touch with other guys my age; guys from the Shankill Road, the Falls Road, wherever. We have an understanding, a bond we would never have dreamed possible at one time in our youth. At 29 I was a troubled sod. I wanted something that I was unable to describe. Today, I know what it was I was looking for, it was peace. Today, I am at peace with myself and I owe it all to the day I hit a punch bag for the first time.
“I felt a lift, I felt something new. I knew then this dormant thing inside me had been burning to get it. I knew then boxing was my way out.”
Rogan was a renowned name on GAA pitches around Antrim. Martins bustling figure and fearless force in a hurling tackle made him of the least-desirable-to-mark in caman clashes.
Though he was also just another name back then. A Rogan. One of the sporting Rogans. Gers wee brother.
Ger is a hurling legend. Martins big brother was a member of the Antrim hurling team that caused one of the greatest sporting upsets in Irish history – the shock 1989 All-Ireland semi-final victory over Offaly at Croke Park. Ger was an All-Ireland finalist and regardless of the heavy defeat to the gloriously talented Tipperary, Ger remains a modern day GAA hero. But Ger is Martin Rogans brother now.
“A part of me was always looking for recognition I think,” said Rogan. “Coming off the pitch from a football or hurling game I didnt feel that I had achieved enough for me alone. Boxing gave me the satisfaction I had been looking for. I wasnt seeking fame or fortune – it was satisfaction and the knowledge that I could achieve with a talent I was born with but took a hell of long time to discover. I feel so lucky that I hit that punch bag. Had I been a good amateur that would have been great. It turned out I was a good amateur and it turns out I am a good boxer. I am a boxer. I remind myself of that sometimes because some of this is like living a dream.”
Martin was child number six behind Ger, Gloria, Paddy, Siobhan and Alex and came before Anthony and Cormac. Another brother, Robert, named after his father Bobby, died just nine months old. Bobby passed away with Martin caught between that delicate period of youth and manhood, aged just 22.
“I wish my dad could be at my fights,” he said. “I know hes with me and I know hed say ‘go you on out there Martin and sort it out.’ I think he recognised the fighter in me long before I did.”
Very much his own man, Rogan does his level best to practices lifes positive” principals. Boxing has taught him more about manners, respect and responsibility more than any other occupation he might have chosen.
He recently made a choice to quit Belfasts famous Breen Gym in favour the John Bosco club in the haunted Conway Mill at the foot of the Falls Road. It was a choice, he says, that has improved his preparation for Fridays re-match with Sexton.
“I am better for having moved on,” he said. “Thats in the past. I made my decision. I am happy with my decision. I am bouncing into training early and leaving late. I am travelling home for dinner with the kids, watching TV and playing with them. My wife says she has never known me to be so happy while in training.
“I am on top of things, working so, so hard for this fight. This my opportunity and I will take it.”
If he beats Sexton, Rogan will land himself a shot at taking the British heavyweight title from Danny Williams – the champion whose last outing in the Prizefighter tournament suggested that the Brixton Bomber has little more to give to the fight game.
Williams is there for the taking and Rogan knows it. But, for now, he has only Sexton to contemplate.
“Ask me on Saturday what Im thinking of next and all I will say is a holiday. I am taking the wife and kids away and Im taking the Commonwealth belt with me.”