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Dublin: 7°C Saturday 8 May 2021

'I'm only coming off a building site since Saturday... But I'm not taking time off work to lose'

Irish amateur boxing legend Roy Sheahan isn’t just chancing his arm on 3 March.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THERE IS SOMETHING in the air in Athy. The stars are bright.

Broadband, though: that’s what kept one of the Kildare town’s finest sporting exponents from returning to the squared circle this time last year, as Roy Sheahan understandably prioritised his day job over the craft in which he had conquered his country on no fewer than four occasions.

Some 18 months after his close friend, St Michael’s club-mate and fellow Irish amateur legend Eric Donovan began a belated burst onto the professional boxing scene at the age of 30, Roy Sheahan has followed suit while three years longer in the tooth.

Just over a week ago, reported that the former two-weight Senior Elite champion would be a shock inclusion in March’s inaugural Last Man Standing professional boxing tournament at Dublin’s National Stadium, the total prize fund for which stands at a whopping €50,000.

Sure enough, at a press conference in the same venue on Wednesday, there sits the beguiling 33-year-old to face the questions and the cameras, looking nearly bemused alongside his friend and rival Chris Blaney of Navan, who’s nine pro fights Sheahan’s senior while eight years his junior.

Some 15 minutes into the presser, a question posed to the fighters by one gentleman in attendance puts the boxing reporters – and our queries regarding the relative minutiae of the tournament (the full details of which can be found here) – to shame.

As it later becomes clear, the unfamiliar voice belongs to the actor John Connors of Love/Hate fame, who puts it to the pugilists present: ‘Lads, I’m going to put ye on the spot here, and I’m going to push ye for answers: who would you like to draw in the opening round – who would be your preferred opponent? And ye have to pick!’

Recognising immediately that his initial magnanimity isn’t appreciated by those in attendance, Sheahan, first on the mic, throws one arm in the air and announces – almost as though annoyed – that he couldn’t give a tu’penny you-know-what, and that he fears none of his seven prospective opponents.

This draws wild cheers, the slapping of chairs, the stomping of feet, no shortage of ‘Wuh-hoahs’.

It’s the first such response of the afternoon, and Sheahan grins down upon the noisemakers as though it has only just now registered with him that he’s a professional prizefighter.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do the last two or three years: just to go pro but, like, not to go pro to be a world champion,” says the 2007 EU gold medalist in a quieter corner afterwards.

“My mates, Eric Donovan and Davey Oliver [Joyce] – they’ve gone pro and they’re doing brilliant. And the support they have from the towns and all that… It’s amazing.

“I didn’t feel left out. I was [always] going to do it. If it was just one fight or two fights, I was going to do it, and hang up my gloves then – just to say, at least, ‘I went pro.’ Do you know what I mean?

It’s just something I wanted to do, and something I wanted to do for my kid. I have a young lad, and it’s just something to say, you know: ‘Oh, my father is going pro.’

“What better way to come in than entering the Last Man Standing? So it’s going to be unreal!”

Roy Sheahan receives his trophy from Kenneth Egan Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Such is his sudden introduction to the paid ranks, Sheahan is yet to decide upon ring-entrance music for 3 March. He doesn’t have a nickname yet either, and as for the plethora of suggestions from pals, he laughs: “I wouldn’t even be able to use half of them!”

It’s been over a year and two full-time jobs since he was last an active boxer; broadband installation would be usurped by construction work in the intervening months, but boxing all the while remained on the back-burner.

As a result, in order to receive a professional licence, Sheahan will be required to prove his fitness and readiness to the Boxing Union of Ireland (BUI) by partaking in a professional fight in advance of March’s tournament, and so first bell in the Stadium in two months’ time will actually signify the beginning of his sophomore bout as opposed to his pro debut.

He’s glad of the curveball.

“It worked out for the better. I was talking to the lads I was going to be going [signing] with, Assassin Promotions, and I told them: ‘If I’m doing this, I want the fight beforehand.’

“I need that fight! I’ve been out of action for the last 15 months.

I know what’s ahead of me: I’m going to get killed in the ring for the next few weeks!

“But if I get back up to the level where I was, I’ll do well in this competition.”

Potential Last Man Standing opponent Henry Coyle – a native of Mayo but based in Chicago – will attempt to shake off four years’ worth of ring rust south of the Mexican border in his own bid to satisfy the BUI’s requirement that he’s fit to fight in this country.

Sheahan is unlikely to travel as far afield for his mandatory professional bow, but the topic of ‘The Western Warrior’ Coyle draws a smile from the fair-haired Lilywhite, who glances over his shoulder toward the promotional poster adorned by his own name and that of several friends.

Of course, he’s hardly averse to beating the bejaysus out of them when needs be: friendship is always parked on the safe side of the ropes come fight night.

“[Mexico] is too far! Too far to acclimatise and come back. Coyle’s not too bad – he’s based in America, he lives in Chicago. Henry’s a good friend of mine as well. Chris Blaney is a good friend of mine.

“In all these competitions, we’re friends, and we’re going to box, and we’re probably going to beat each other, but we always stay friends afterwards.

“It’s mad, you know? Boxers’ lives. If I go to any town in Ireland, I can always ring up someone and say: ‘What’s the story? Are you coming out?’ Or whatever.

“But even Henry, there, even living in America. He says, ‘come over any time you want.’ It’s mad.”

The Prizefighter-style competition will see the eight entrants fight as many as three bouts, each spanning three three-minute rounds – a format to which Sheahan might remain best accustomed as he’s the nearest removed from amateur boxing’s similar demands.

Timewise, however, he’s far enough removed from the wider sport that he doesn’t even remotely perceive his amateur pedigree to be an advantage within a strong field of pros, and he’s pragmatic enough to recognise the uphill nature of his task.

“No, I have a disadvantage!” he says matter-of-factly, before laughing again.

My disadvantage would be that I’m out of action for so long. Like, I’m only coming off a building site since Saturday, d’you know? I didn’t know the week before last that I was coming into this – I only found out last week.

“I got a bit of leave off work from my boss, Dan Curtis, which is helping me out. Only for that, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. So I’m going to take it with both hands, I’m going to train as hard as I can, and get back up to where I was.

Where he was the top echelon of Irish amateur fighters; Sheahan won three Irish welterweight (69kg) titles on the spin between 2006 and 2008, pocketing an EU Championships gold medal in the intervening 12 months.

He was unfortunate, too, not to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, suffering a broken left hand in sparring at the Irish squad’s training camp in Italy just two months prior to the final European qualifier, which scuppered his chances.

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The naturally-talented boxer-puncher left the sport in his rear-view in 2013 but returned for the 2015 Seniors three divisions north of his heyday at welter, at light-heavyweight (81kg).

Incredibly, it was this weight class in which he won his fourth All-Ireland title, seven years on from his third and, more pertinently, on the back of just three weeks’ training.

Roy Sheahan celebrates his win over Matthew Tinker Roy Sheahan celebrates his fourth national title Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Following that finals victory over Matthew Tinker, Sheahan again departed the sport.

His comeback attempt for last year’s Seniors – this time at middleweight (75kg) was begun in vain, ultimately, as the day job once more took precedence over the night job.

“I was training last January,” he says. “Coming into February, I started a new job on the broadband. I wasn’t getting home until half-eight at night.

“I was going to make 75, but it was too much. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t want to train, I didn’t want to do nathin’.

“That last week, I rang me coach, Dom O’Rourke, and I said: ‘Dom, I can’t do this. I can’t do this.’ And that’s the way it was.

I was coming in from work at half-eight, putting on the sweat gear. I hadn’t eaten – I’d probably eaten a salad that day at about 11 o’clock. Couldn’t be doing it!

“My body couldn’t do it, and then my head couldn’t do it. I would have had another three weeks of that. I would have went mad.”

The 2018 Seniors were never an option much for the same reason, but a bash at the pros in Last Man Standing – and its potential earnings of over €30,000 – was an opportunity too aligned with his pipe dream to turn down.

Should he reign supreme in the Stadium once more, however, Sheahan is adamant that his pro career won’t be a one-night stand.

If he is to forge a career beyond March, though, he’ll be aiming to do so south of the tournament’s 165-pound catchweight – at middleweight (160) as opposed to super-middle (168).

“If I win it and I do well, there’s more fights to come. More money.

“But if I did go pro [kept fighting after Last Man Standing], it would be 72-and-a-half [kg]. The other weight is too big. Sure I only walk around at 76, 77.

“It’d be too much of a jump for me. You have lads coming down from 80-something [kg]. In the pro game you weigh in the day before, and people boil down four kilos that day before the weigh-in. By starving.”

No sooner than Sheahan has finished his sentence does professional prospect Declan Geraghty (15-2) interject en route to the exit door.

“THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN THE TOURNAMENT,” roars the grinning Dublin super-featherweight, whose next bout is tentatively scheduled for the undercard of Katie Taylor’s Dublin homecoming. “I’M TELLING YOUSE, ALRIGHT? THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN THE TOURNAMENT, AND I’LL TELL YOU THE TRUTH! DEBUT AND HE’S THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN!”

Declan Geraghty Declan Geraghty was an Irish team-mate of Sheahan before turning pro in 2014 Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

It’s unclear as to whether the ‘Pretty Boy’ is alluding to Sheahan’s proficiency in the ring or his propensity for skullduggery outside of it.

“Bit of both!” reckons the man himself, half-chuffed, half-mortified.

“I’d be known in the amateurs as well – I do move around, and I’d be known for dropping lads, knocking them out. A good shot with my left or right.

His fellow Kildare man Gary Cully, too, joined the chorus of boxers backing Sheahan to go all the way in March. Sheahan admits that such praise does imbue him with confidence, but he could scarcely be accused of getting carried away with the support.

“Well, it does, and it sort of annoys me in a way… Because I haven’t been boxing the last 15 months.

And all these lads [potential opponents] – these are seven top pros: their life is boxing. My life is on a building site – groundworks – d’you know what I mean?

“And I’m coming out of that into this unknown, now, and we’re like, ‘Who’s going to win this?’ I don’t know.

“But the people backing me, I appreciate it. It’s good. But it is a very hard task ahead of me. It’s going to be very tough.

“It’s going to be the toughest few weeks of my life.”

This isn’t about chancing his arm purely for a story to tell down the pub in years to come, though.

There’s a conviction to Sheahan when it’s put to him that, due to his lack of experience in the professional ranks, and this quick turnaround at the ripe old age of 33, he might be perceived as an underdog.

Indeed, it’s probably the first answer he delivers without so much as a chuckle.

“If I was going into a world championship fight against I don’t know who”, he says, “and if I was to train for a few weeks, I’d always be confident that I was going to win.

Like, I’m not going to take time off work and train just to lose. I’m a boxer – I boxed all my life – and everything I went into, I went into to win.

“I want to win this thing. I hope I do well.

“If I train just as hard as anyone else over the next few weeks, we’re all the same – we’re all equal – and it’s just a matter of who wants it more on the night.

“And as I said, I’m not giving up work for nathin’.”

It’s only as he drops the proverbial mic that you come to realise that Sheahan, at a most intrinsic level, remains a thoroughbred competitor; the self-deprecating, happy-go-lucky persona is no more than a mask – at least where boxing is concerned.

With one foot out the door, he slips it back on.

“See you there on the night… If I make it!” he laughs. “If I can still walk!”

Pro boxing returns to Irish TV as lineup for big-money ‘Last Man Standing’ tournament revealed

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