The tattoo on his left bicep reads ‘redemption’ and that’s a pretty accurate summation of the past few days for Steven Donnelly.
In what was one of the biggest shocks in Irish boxing this year, the Ballymena man sensationally qualified for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Donnelly had long since thought that he was out of the running for Rio, largely due to a visa mix-up, but irish-boxing.com unearthed a back-door of sorts through the convoluted Olympic qualification system back in October that gave the welterweight a glimmer of hope.
A delicate, almost unbelievable, combination of results, culminating in the Russian National final in Samara on Sunday, paved the way for the Irishman to achieve glorious qualification to the 31st Olympiad.
Today an ecstatic Donnelly spoke to irish-boxing.com about securing his place and described how “it feels amazing now that it’s all confirmed, it’s what dreams are made of.”
“Every amateur’s dream is to go to Olympics, it’s the biggest stage for sport – I can’t wait!”
In what were bizarre circumstances, Donnelly was up early on Sunday morning watching the finals of the Russian championships on an internet live-stream, praying for Andrey Zamkovoy to defeat Radzhab Butzev in the welterweight final.
While he can laugh now, the Ulster man admitted that it was “very hard [relying on other results], but rewarding.”
“I was on my own in living room with the iPad on and the TV on mute.”
“After the final bell I said ‘he’s done enough to win this’ – and, when he won and jumped in the air, I let a roar out of me and so did my dad upstairs where he was watching it.”
“It was emotional, I’m not going to lie.”
After some time spent disheartened and away from the ring, a reinvigorated Donnelly is back training ahead of next Summer, and he explained that “my plan is to get into the best shape of my life for Rio.”
“I’ve been out of action for a while, but it will all come back with good sparring and hard-work which I’ve started already.”
Additionally, Donnelly will join Paddy Barnes in the WSB again next season, jet-setting across the globe and fighting the World’s very best.
For those who may not know Donnelly as well as some of Ireland’s other stars, the Commonwealth Games bronze medalist describes himself as a boxer “with a high work-rate. I’m a box fighter, I like a brawl and I like to box, I can switch-hit, and I will continue to improve even more.”
All of this leads the 27 year old to feel “very confident of making an impact [in Rio].”
“Everything up and until Rio is preparation, and I’ll peak just in time for the big one.”
“Once I’m in proper good shape, I’m a dangerous fighter with big heart.”
With qualification secure, time to prepare, and an abundance of confidence, skill, and grit, expect Donnelly to make a splash next Summer.