The Limerick heavyweight, only 20 years of age, was killed on his way home from celebrating his county’s win in the Munster Hurling Championship final.
Struck by an SUV, Gardaí are treating the death as a murder and a man has been charged in connection with the killing.
To respect the integrity of the investigation, we do not want to focus on the details of the horrific incident and instead would like to take a few minutes here to celebrate and commemorate the life of a young man we got to know ever so slightly over the past few years.
We do not want to give the impression that we were in constant contact or had an overly close relationship with Kevin but this website interviewed and talked with the St Francis’s puncher around five times since 2016.
We first came across Kevin back in the second Under-18 Championships of 2016.
Then a super heavyweight, Kevin was the final fighter in action on the day, boxing Frank Carr from Ballinrobe in the decider.
Having avenged a defeat to reigning champion Martin Mongan in the previous round, Sheehy had a tick beside his name as one to watch and, having never seen him before, we were surprised. There was no languid, rangy amateur style, Kevin was big, burly, and, most of all, he was mean.
It was a scrappy clash that August afternoon at the National Stadium, heads and elbows everywhere. The word we used to describe Kevin was ‘vicious’. With Carr bleeding from the nose, Sheehy attacked, looking to do damage any way he could, winging in hooks and eventual taking a split-decision we felt he deserved.
Afterwards, like we do with all the finals for underage boxers, we went to the coach asking if we could have a few words with Kevin. Truth be told, at their age, it’s not hard-hitting journalism. There aren’t any tricky questions or challenges, it’s a puff piece, something young boxers might think is cool, something their families appreciate, and articles which are always popular for us.
Usually, a coach will say ‘yeah, sure’ when asked about an interview, invariably followed by a joke about how they can never get their fighter to shut up. St Francis BC head coach Ken Moore was a bit different that day. ‘Give me a second’, he said before going over to his then-17-year-old fighter.
We could only catch glimpses of that conversation in the bowels of the National Stadium.
“…you’re still representing your club here.”
“…thank your opponent, and thank Joe for taking the time to speak to you.”
And so began the shortest interview in the history of Irish-Boxing.com. Following Moore’s pep-talk, the aggressive approach in the ring, and a fairly gnarly tattoo around the elbow, we didn’t know what to expect but Kevin was perhaps the most softly spoken boxer interviewed that day.
In all, there was about 20 seconds of usable audio from the painfully shy young man and the article (which you can read here) was barely a few sentences long. Not to bore readers with the details of all the churning which goes on behind the scenes here but there were not especially high hopes for the piece because, mainly, Kevin did not have a Facebook page at this time to share it upon.
How wrong were we? The article outperformed the interviews with all other nine champions combined. It was our first glimpse into just how popular this teenager was in Limerick. Shares atop shares atop shares, and we would learn in the coming years just how highly regarded Sheehy was by the fight community in both Limerick and Ireland.
Fast forward a few months and we’re in Belfast at the press conference to unveil Mick Conlan as a Top Rank signing. The Irish Youth team, on which Sheehy had won a place back in August, were also in the Titanic Museum having just finished a camp ahead of flying to Russia for the World Championships.
Sensing an opportunity, we ran around the place getting interviews with as many as we could. Paddy Donovan was bouncing about calling himself the ‘Gypsy King’ for the day, level-headed team captain Brett McGinty was speaking with the authority and responsibility of a 40-year-old, but Kevin Sheehy was nowhere to be seen.
It later emerged that, Kevin was so shy [and we were perhaps so annoying] that he had left the room when he saw that interviews were being done!
Plenty of things would change in St Petersburg though. Moore, like a proud father, would report that Sheehy was giving as good as he got in sparring with reigning World Junior champion Magomed Abdullayev of Azerbaijan and was coming on leaps and bounds.
Of course, Sheehy would draw the Azeri in his opening contest and lost a competitive fight but he was now an Irish international, and he liked it.
That’s more than could be said for the Russian food, as Sheehy would later tell us. The big, burly super heavyweight slimmed down during his few weeks out East, weeks spent barely eating, and entered 2017 as a slim and dangerous heavyweight.
Puppy fat burned off in the Russian cold, Sheehy claimed his first adult honours that December – the Intermediates – and we would come into contact with him again shortly afterwards when he picked up the revived Under-22 title.
This time it wasn’t in person, following the shooting at the National Stadium the previous night, and Moore – always media friendly and looking to help build his fighters’ profile – set up a phone call. Any interviewer will tell you, phone interviews can’t compare to face-to-face ones and, considering our last chat, we approached the talk with a bit of dread, wondering would we be able to draw blood from the polite stone.
We needn’t have worried, in the space of just over a year the shrinking Sheehy had transformed himself into something else. Oozing confidence, he talked, joked, laughed, and we nattered away, discussing his two big recent wins and looking ahead to the Elite Senior Championships in the coming weeks.
With Darren O’Neill out of the picture, Sheehy was already being talked about as a favourite, the young man to take over, but he saw things differently. While he could now talk for Ireland, every word had meaning. There was no bluster and, acknowledging his age and inexperience, Kevin kept saying “it’s all bonus territory.”
“I’ve nothing to lose in this tournament, absolutely nothing to lose,” he added a couple of weeks later following his semi-final win.
We’re not in a movie so there was no big win the following Friday night, live on RTÉ 2. Kirill Afanasev was too big, strong, and experienced for Sheehy who lost his head somewhat during the fight but remained respectful and mature afterwards.
His time, we all felt, would come. Tragically, senselessly, it never will.
The Paris Olympics in 2024 were always the aim for Kevin and, as he got older and we spoke more, you could see why Moore described him as a sponge.
So hungry to improve, so determined to win, last summer in the Ringside Club we watched Sheehy go to war with big Ken Okungbowa as part of a fundraiser for St Catherine’s Boxing Club.
Sheehy lost on the night and while Moore was happy with the then-19-year-old’s continued development, Sheehy wanted more. Following the verdict he took MC Fran Long’s mic and declared “enjoy that one, Kenny, because it won’t happen again!”
The dozen or so who travelled up from Limerick [for a charity bout!] cheered wildly at this and, after romping home to another U22 title, it was looking like we were in for a major battle to crown Ireland’s next top dominant heavy.
Sheehy, however, missed the Seniors and, having got back into the swing of things with an impressive win at the Hull Box Cup last month, it was all cut short.
@Kevin_sheehy_1 is the new Hull box cup heavyweight champion after a tough unanimous points win against a very strong Scottish opponent
The current Irish u22 champ used his speed and strength throughout and switched from head to body to great effect to win on all cards. pic.twitter.com/s71CMud3sf
— ken moore (@ken_moore31) June 21, 2019
While he was always improving, always working, it would be wrong to characterise Kevin as some boxing machine. While Moore notes how he was the most talented fighter he had worked with since Andy Lee, Kevin was not naturally blessed like some, he worked extremely hard to get where he was and this would no doubt have brought him even further.
Irish boxing has been robbed of a future star – both in the amateurs and the pros. 2024 was more than achievable, and he would have given 2020 a good go too. As a pro Kevin would have brought an army with him to shows in Ireland and perhaps even could have relocated to New York or Boston.
But this is not what has been lost, it is the man that we all will miss, not the fighter.
From John Carew Park, an area more frequently seen in the Courts section than the Sports section, Sheehy gave back to his community. Boxing helped keep Kevin, like thousands if not millions of others, on the straight and narrow but it was up to him to seize this, something he did with both gloves.
It was a pleasure too chat with the kids of my old primary school today thanks for having me 👊🏻 https://t.co/aoMXiJoJD1
— Kevin sheehy (@Kevin_sheehy_1) May 28, 2019
The boxer who once ran and hid from this interviewer was back giving a talk to his old school, Scoil Iósagain, just a few short weeks ago, giving up his time, even bringing young kids to train at St Francis’s Boxing Club
Kevin was just 20 years old. He was soon to become a father for the first time.
His fiancée, Emma, whom he had been with for five years will never marry her childhood sweetheart, their daughter will never know her father beyond the stories that we all will continue to tell.
We have lost a giant of a man.
Rest in Peace, Kevin Sheehy.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam