By Tadhg Peavoy
Darren O’Neill, Ireland’s London 2012 middleweight contender, today spoke about his dual love of hurling and boxing, and how he left the former sport to concentrate on the latter.
“Obviously you dream of being a hurler for Kilkenny, and I did so until I was 21. But I suppose my Dad got me into boxing. And when I was six or seven, Michael Carruth won the gold medal, and that was all I wanted to be,” said Paulstown man O’Neill.
“I remember the likes of Merlene Ottey, Linford Christie and Haile Gebrselassie running around the track and thinking, wow, I just want to be in the Olympics.
“I think the fact that Carruth was there that time [at Barcelona 1992], within my own sport, and being an Irish person. And when I got to breaking through to the national team at junior and senior level, I realised this dream could become a reality.
“So, it was just something I concentrated on and left the hurling behind.
“I played on the Kilkenny team until under-21 and colleges with the likes of Richie Power and the Hogan brothers, Cha Fitzpatrick, the Tennysons, all of those. I could have made it on to the senior team, but I won’t look back and wonder you know.”
O’Neill admits, however, that sometimes he wishes he could still be out on the field.
“I miss the camaraderie of being on a team. And even down at home watching our second team at home the other day, I was tormented watching them,” said O’Neill.
“They were beaten by a point and I remember saying to my Mam with ten minutes to go, ‘I wonder could they bring me on for the last ten minutes’. But that’s the choice I made and I’ve no regrets.”
Preparation for a hurling match and a boxing bout, however, could not be further apart, according to O’Neill.
“They’re completely different – for me anyway. If I was going out playing an All-Ireland hurling final tomorrow I’d be getting myself psyched up to the last. I’d be going out there with adrenaline flying and I’d be hopping off lads left, right and centre,” said O’Neill.
“If I did that in a boxing match, I’d be going out with my defence down, with my hands down.
“I’d be falling in on top of shots. For me, I like to be really fired up for it and the big occasion. In boxing circles I have to be controlled and calm and make sure I stick to the processes and what makes me be the best that I can be.
“With regard to preparation the night before a boxing match, I’m going to be making weight and dehydrating myself. You won’t be eating for a GAA match, as you would be carbing up and resting, keeping yourself hydrated.”
With the Ireland squad heading to Assisi, Italy, for training camp on Friday, O’Neill explained that the concentration from here on in will be on technique rather than heavy aerobic training.
“We’re going to Assisi now now on Friday. I think we’re there for nine days in total,” he said.
“We’ll probably train hard for the first four or five days then it will taper a little bit. To be honest we have most of the hard work and slogging done. It’s all going to be short, sharp, explosive stuff from here on in.
“It’s not that the hard training stops, we change the focus of it. We spend a lot of time doing long, gruelling stuff, and building on your endurance and all. We’re bringing it back now to the short, fast explosive stuff, for speed and tactics and all the rest of that.”
The Kilkenny man also told RTÉ Sport that he won’t be changing his tactics in London depending on which opponent he is to face.
“I won’t [change my tactics]. Certain boxers do. I find if I concentrate too much on the others I tend to neglect my own strengths," said O'Neill.
“Billy is a tactical genius and he will look at the boxers. To be honest we won’t look to build the tactic around them, we’ll look to build the fight around my strengths and what I do best to cause them problems. I’m not going to concern myself too much with others.”