Darren O’Neill is an Irish boxer from Paulstown County Kilkenny. He was the 2009 European Union champion and 2010 European silver medalist.He was named the captain of the Irish boxing team at the 2011 European Championships and upon securing qualification for the Olympic Games in London 2012 he again captained the Irish boxers. Unfortunately he was unable to qualify for this summer’s games. Luckily I got the chance to ask him a few questions.
The obvious question first – how did you get involved in boxing?
- My dad is the head coach in Paulstown Boxing Club and was one of the founding members. He boxed himself when he was younger and it was inevitable I would follow him down to the club and get involved.
Inside the ring:
Who are your boxing mentors?
- Again, I would refer to my dad Ollie who taught me from a young age right through to senior levels. As I made the national team I was obviously privileged to come under the guidance of Billy Walsh and Zauri Antia also.
I understand you are a qualified primary teacher, how did you balance the academic side of your life while training at such a high level?
- Managing studies, work and sport can be a tricky task as they all require a lot of energy and focus. However, clear and careful time-management along with the support of others allows you manage a lot more than we think we can. Care does need to be taken in managing your health though.
Who are your sporting idols?
- I can’t exactly say I have any heroes and I’m not one to get carried away with famous people. I do think some people to be amazing people such as Muhammad Ali. When it comes to who maybe inspired me in sport I owe a lot to my dad. I also found inspiration in boxers like Kenneth Egan, who beat me in my first two years of senior boxing, because he managed to overcome many set backs and reach the Olympics and his goals, something I also encountered.
Could you describe your experience with the Irish High Performance Unit?
- My experience in High Performance has been transformational. I have been part of High Performance since its inception in 2003 and I have struggled through times where Ireland were considered to be the whipping boys and easy opponents to a time where we others fear having to face us. I have seen huge numbers of boxers come and go and witnessed some of the greatest moments of our existence, such as Katie Taylor’s Olympic gold medal win. While I have suffered many, many set backs and failures over the years I have been privileged to benefit from having two of the best coaches in the world to having great experiences and journeys with amazing people. I am honoured to have represented our country at every level for over a decade, to have won a truckload of international medals, including a European silver medal and am privileged to have represented our country in the Olympic Games
What does it feel like to step into the ring representing Ireland?
- Representing my country has been one of the greatest honours of my career and something I take tremendous pride from. The emotions stepping into a ring are a funny concoction ranging from anxiety to excitement, from nerves to aggression, from focus to possibly a small bit of fear but it is a buzz like no other in sport.
What is your greatest memory from boxing?
- Two memories will always stick with me… beating the World No.1 in the European quarter-final in 2010 and finally winning a major medal and walking out for the first time to represent my country at the Olympic Games in a packed and screaming stadium.
What trait is most important for an athlete?
What are your future plans within boxing?
- As of now I don’t know. I may retire, I may box on or I may go professional…. I may even switch to coaching.
How do you think team Ireland will do in Rio?
- I think the team are in a great position for Rio and I would hope we will win at least four medals.
Outside the ring:
How do you relax when you aren’t training or competing in an event?
- Traditionally, I relax with my partner and family.
Do you have any pre-event rituals?
- No. I try not to believe in that type of stuff in case there comes a time when you can’t complete it and that could mess with your head. But of course, all athletes have small things they like to do that they aren’t even conscious of.
What’s your favourite food?
- I’m not a fussy eater in the slightest but I like the occasional pizza, I love eggs but if push comes to shove without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite food is chocolate… not very healthy I know but there you go!
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
- I’m not sure to be honest… I can only think of the funny ones like “Hit him more than he hits you”, or “Hit him in the face”.
- Too many to list….. I will pick one and say bad drivers/traffic.
It was fantastic to chat with Darren and I wish him the very best going forward.