Wednesday 28 June 2017

Meet the Cork All Ireland winner swapping the hurley for boxing gloves

Niall McCarthy’s focus now is the boxing ring. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile
Niall McCarthy’s focus now is the boxing ring. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

Michael Verney

He was a gladiator inside the white lines during a glittering Cork hurling career where he collected two All-Ireland SHC medals, as well as the man-of-the-match award in their final win against Kilkenny in 2004, but now Niall McCarthy's focus is the boxing ring.

Having quietly hung up his hurley with his club Carrigtwohill last September due to "injury after injury" days after his 35th birthday, McCarthy decided he needed a new challenge and made the step between the ropes.

Hurling was always his No 1 priority during his playing days, but boxing always appealed to the former All-Star and when the chance arose he didn't look back.

A casual visit to St Colmans Boxing Club in Shangarry was made in October under the advice of his good friend Kevin Walsh, who along with his brothers Pa and Billy have won over 20 All-Ireland boxing titles under the tutelage of their father Maurice, and it sparked something inside him.

While he's still learning, he will make the trip to Dublin's National Stadium today where he represents UCC and squares off against fellow Corkman Finbarr McGuire (CIT) for the cruiserweight title (86kg) at the Irish Athletic Third Level Boxing Association finals.

After 11 seasons with the Rebels, this is a challenge he never expected but he's "loving every second of it".

"I've always been into boxing but I didn't have the time with the hurling, but if I was to pick another sport it would've been boxing," McCarthy said.

"I never did any sparring when I was younger - I might go on the bag after training for the hurling in the gym but I hadn't a great technique.

"I have a whole new appreciation for how much of an art it is and anyone that steps into the ring since I took it up myself. You're on your own in there; boxing is the loneliest place in the world if you're not fit for a fight.

"The pads and the bags are grand - I thought I was Muhammad Ali until I stepped into the ring. I went sparring and it's completely different.

"You get craftier and wiser after a while. It's an awesome sport and I'm only learning really. I have so much to learn but I'll give it everything and I plan to be at it for a few years, I'm only an apprentice sure."

Known for his inimitable style on the field, and the green and white helmet he adorned, McCarthy has Barry Mulcahy at Muls Gym in Midleton to thank for his physical conditioning and he hopes the hard work pays off.

"I had no intention of getting into the ring but you need some type of competitiveness so getting into the ring solved that.

"Other people are different though and you don't have to fight in the ring to get something out of it, even just working the pads is a great such a great release and I'd encourage people to try it."

McCarthy wouldn't be stepping into the ring without the guidance of UCC coaches Eoin Buckley and Ken Anthony, and his training as a PE and history teacher has changed his life. Now he might be set to write another chapter.

"If I could bring the hurley into the ring I'd be very confident going up," he joked. "I've watched a lot of fights there over the years and I'm honoured to be boxing in the same ring as greats like Katie Taylor."

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