By Kevin Byrne (follow Kevin on Twitter @kevoobyrne)
There was something different about Sean McComb this year. Maybe it was the way he carried his frame into the ring at the National Stadium or simply more swagger about his march.
Last year beat Peter Keenan 10-6, Eric Donovan 17-16 and George Bates 19-7 to take the crown for the first time.
He also prevailed at a box-off ahead of the European Championships in Minsk, where he exited in the last 32 to Ukraine, then went to the World Championships in Almaty where he went one step further before crashing out on a split decision to Azerbaijan.
Before and in between, there were training camps across Ireland and the continent, and what we’re seeing this year is a more developed McComb than the version we saw last year.
He is self-assured in the ring, with a more dominant streak, and at this year’s Elite Senior Championships he has already racked up victories over Declan Geraghty and Keith Flavin, both by unanimous decision.
On Friday night, he will take on St Michael’s Athy pressure fighter David Oliver Joyce in a bid to retain his belt as Elite Senior Champion.
Irish-boxing.com caught up with the Holy Trinity boxer and asked him about his growth as a fighter, being the top dog and the boxers he looks up to, namely Jason Quigley.
Last year you won your first title as an unknown. Now it’s different.
Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure on me now. People know who you are – this time last year no one knew who I was. I was the underdog. No matter who you lose to, you don’t feel hard on yourself.
But now that I’m, the No 1 seed and defending champion, it puts a lot of pressure on me coming into competition. I’m the one to beat now. Everyone’s out to beat me. You have to deal with that pressure and still perform through it.
It feels good to be No 1, don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, it’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders coming in.
Everybody else is defending their titles every year, Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes, Adam Nolan won his first one from nowhere and has kept it on. I’m looking to go in the same footsteps of all of those guys.
I want to stay as No 1 and go to the internationals all year round.
So that pressure is welcome ultimately, it’s a good thing. Is that how you see it?
It’s always a good thing. People are worried about you from the start. They’re probably thinking about how they can beat you before they even draw you. That’s going to set them off their gameplan in other fights. I just do my normal thing and use a gameplan for every fighter.
Is there an opportunity this year to make a name, a gap in the market for someone to come through after a number of lads moved aside?
Hopefully I’m the one. I went to the World and European Championships last year. And I sorta had meetings with the coaches after the competitions and we said that 60kg has been changing hands in the last few years. Michael McDonagh won it two years in a row, before that Eric Donovan won it two years in a row, before that it was Ross Hickey… there’s someone different coming in every two years.
I wanna be here for long… I wanna be here for five, six years. Make the Olympics in 2016 and so on. I feel I’m the one who can fill that gap. I’m performing well and I keep getting better.
I’m performing better this year than I did last year. Hopefully it keeps going that way and I’ll be the one to fill that gap.
And you’re confident you can become a name, a star, like John Joe Nevin or any other?
This is where it all starts now. I’ve made a name at national level. Now it’s all about going on to the world and European stage from here. I have to make my name out there as well and bring it back to Ireland.
I can just see the difference in Jason Quigley’s confidence to what he was last year. That’s what’s needed to be at the top, top level.
Just how he goes about fights. He’s a great sportsman and he does everything right, but this time last year he was lucky to beat Darren O’Neill then goes and wins European gold and goes into a World Championships and takes it by storm. You can just see the confidence oozing out of him going into every fight, and he KNOWS he’s the man to beat. To have that gives you a massive edge.
I would love to have that about me and the only way to get that is to go and do what Jason done, then I can get it.
Your own confidence is rising though, right? It was noticeable that you appeared to ‘own’ the ring more than you have done in the past.
That’s it. Coming in here, I feel like it’s MY title and it’s going to be hard to take it from me. Everyone wants to come and get it. And I’m saying, ‘just try and come get it!’
The confidence is oozing out of me at national level. I just think, if I go out and get that experience at international level, it’ll be the same there as well.”
I then turned to Sean’s coaches, Holy Trinity duo Michael, or Mickey Hawkins, and right-hand man Peter Brady, to get their view on McComb’s development as a boxer.
Have you noticed a change in Sean’s game over the last 12 months? Has he taken his performances up a level?
Peter Brady: His confidence has grown with the international experience he’s getting.
Mickey Hawkins: He’s in the High Performance all season and he certainly has picked up a lot. His confidence has grown and you could see it against Geraghty. He kept his cool, kept his cool against a very experienced, cagey customer in Deco. Deco has been around.
PB: A lot of it was trying to draw him on to a fight.
It was a very tactical battle against Geraghty all right. A lot of countering on display.
PB: We had to draw him into a fight.
MH: That was Deco at his best and I’m not just saying that because we won. Sean’s boxing very well as you can see. He’s the Irish senior champion and he won the Irish box-off as well last year. No one has beaten him at 60kg where the likes of (Eric) Donovan and David Oliver (Joyce) are long-time names there, and all the rest of the up-and-coming talent.
It’s great to be at the top, at High Performance level. That’s what we’re about at Holy Trinity Belfast. Our aim is to get our boxers winning.
Last year we were unfortunate with Conrad Cummings moving on, him and Sean were our only two senior boxers to break into the High Performance.
KB: It must have been a disappointment to lose Conrad.
MH: We were severely disappointed to lose Conrad. It was very disappointing. At the time, when he went, I mean he always wanted to be a professional. Always. And lots of young boxers’ dream is to be a world champion at a professional level.
But to turn when he turned, I felt he could have waited six months. Go win an Irish senior title, which again is the Holy Trinity aim. We proudly boast most in the north, with 38 Irish senior titles. So I’m being selfish saying that, but also for Conrad, he could have won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. And then turn pro with that behind you.
It’s gone now. Sean’s still up and coming.
KB: Would it have been possible for Conrad to continue to train with you guys and turn professional?
MH: He turned with Barry McGuigan, who is a friend of ours – he was a friend of ours I should say – and he’s got a base there. He’s got the boys there, he’s got Shane and his young son Jake as well, so they’ve got their training team.
But any time Conrad would be at home and not in London, the Holy Trinity doors are always open for him.
KB: Now that Conrad has gone, and it’s looking like Jason Quigley is going, and we’ve lost Nevin and Tommy McCarthy with Kenny Egan retired, there appears to be a vacancy for someone new to step up. Is Sean capable of making himself a well-known boxer?
PB: He’s well capable of it. He’s maturing all the time for one, and getting the experience.
MH: He’s got the proper attitude, no doubt. He’s got the training but this new scoring system that our, there could be just a hair between getting the right result and not getting there. Every boxer is in the exact same position. It’s made a big, big difference.
KB: Were you nervous coming up to the verdict against Geraghty?
MH: You’re always nervous because we knew it was one round each going into the last round. Don’t ask how we knew, but we knew it was one round each. There wasn’t a lot in the last round, but there was enough on our side.
It’s so hard to know with the new scoring system – but it gives the fighters a chance. It gives the fighters a chance that they never had before. The boxer was always the guy who could pick the point, pick the point, pick the points. Now the fighter’s getting an opportunity to come into the sport.