By Michael O’Neill
As we reported here last week , Ireland’s Junior boxers head off this week for the 10th AIBA World Junior Men’s Championships in St Petersburg, Russia. Among that squad are two members of the Old School BC in Monaghan, father and son,
Fergal and Aaron McKenna. Dad, Fergal has been confirmed as one of the Irish team coaches along with fellow coaches Dimitry Dmitruk and Billy McClean . Paddy Osbourne is Team Manager.
So time for boxing fans to learn more about the Old School BC we thought thus put Fergal under the ‘spotlight’ in this Q & A session:
Q: Fergal, rarely nowadays do we get an IABA Press Release without the name ‘McKenna’ appearing so tell us about the Old School club, when was it formed for example? Who are a few of the well-known club members, past or present?
A : Formed in 1965 and originally known as Smithboro Boxing club, we have produced some very famous boxers in past times such as world champion Featherweight champion Barry McGuigan who trained with the club for over 6 years of his Amateur career and Kevin McBride, the last man to beat Mike Tyson.
Q: You were then ‘out of action’ for some time?
A: True, after a few inactive years the club was re-formed in 2008 with a new committee and relocated where we now train in the Old School having moved from the previous premises in Smithboro village. Again with renewed energy from a new committee, an enthusiastic coaching staff was put in place and sent to work. I was appointed head coach with Fergal Treanor as assistant coach, both of us were past boxers of the club and very committed to producing champions.
It wasn’t long till we were back to our winning ways and producing Irish champions and we are now known as Old School ABC.
Q: A quick look through IABA records and Press Releases shows that you have been very successful in achieving what you set out to do, tell us more about those achievements?
A : It is nothing short of remarkable how the club achieved success so rapidly; only 7 years from being re-formed we have now accumulated to-date a total of 16 Irish titles . Our club has refined a series of training programmes that could be considered collectively as a conveyor belt system where we introduce young children from the ages of 6-11 on what is essentially an introduction to boxing.
This is specifically for beginners based on non-contact sessions where the children are developed in boxing drills that include bag and pad work and are also developed in hand and eye coordination drills. With about an average 3 years of training they are then introduced to the competitive section of the club when they reach 11 years of age and are then developed to box competitively. This training and development strategy has been proven to be very successful for us as and over the past season alone we have secured 6 Irish titles from boxers that were developed in this structure.
Q: Some record that but you must be particularly proud of young Aaron’s achievements in recent years?
A: The pinnacle of the Club’s success has to be when he succeeded in winning the gold medal for Ireland at the European schoolboy championships that were held in City West in Dublin 2013. Following on from this in 2014 Aaron won a silver medal at the European championships in Russia.
Q: Long term aims?
A: Aaron’s goal and that of his coaches is that someday he will become a world champion! He has been training from he was 6 years of age and its astonishing to think that he has already got 10 years under his belt. To-date Aaron has won 7 Irish titles for the Old School boxing club and has been training hard for the world championships that are being held in St. Petersburg next week.
Q: You have two other well-known boxing sons, Stephen and Gary. How are they coming along? What are their next boxing assignments?
A :Stephen McKenna is also producing the goods for the Old School boxing club. Earlier this year he won a bronze medal at the Nikolay Pavlyukov Youth Memorial in Anapa, Russia which is widely known in the boxing world as the Mini world championships. Having also won the U/18 championships this year he has been picked to represent Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Youth games that are been held in Samoa this month and is also looking forward to competing in the European Youth championships on November.
Q: Our Senior boxer Gary is also doing well for the club having competed on the international circuit with the Irish Elite squad. A prominent moment of his career to date was when he competed in the European Elite championships last year in Bulgaria and is consistently on the circuit competing on Multi-national championships when the opportunity arises all over Europe. Gary has also won the U/22 Elite championships this season and will be looking to make a good impact this year in the Irish seniors.
Q: You have some others doing well also I hear?
A: Other success stories include the achievements of Zach Mallen who competed alongside Aaron in the European Juniors this Year and Terry McEntee who had a tremendous season last year when he won the Irish and Cadet championships which also seen him selected for the European Juniors in 2014 where he narrowly missed out on a medal.
Q: Must be a huge strain on the club’s finances. How do you manage?
A: Success has gone beyond our expectations in the club and it is getting more difficult financially to keep up with our achievements. We now have boxers that train in the high performance unit in Dublin almost every weekend. When they are not training in Dublin they are also actively competing in the National Stadium most weekends.
With the help of Monaghan County Council we were able to take international boxing to Monaghan for the first time in 2013 when 56 Irish champions from all over Ireland got their opportunity to box against Scotland including some Old School boxers. This was then followed with another major international in 2014 when Ireland fought England in a highly entertaining battle in Monaghan town which also saw the Old School boxers getting a taste of the action.
We were also involved in enhancing cross community relations with the Peace 111 programme with Monaghan County Council and were actively working with clubs in the Belfast area which involved Cross Community exchanges through boxing.
The McKenna lads live and breathe the boxing life where they can sometimes train up to 12 sessions per week leading up to major events. They have to travel a lot to get the sparring they need to keep them sharp but are also fortunate enough that they can go in and mix it up with each other under the watchful eye of their Father Fergal who makes sure there is no rough play !Their training consists of 3 track sessions, 3 strength & conditioning sessions and 6 boxing specific sessions. Their Mother Loretta is responsible for the nutritional end of business and keeps the lads well fed and watered. As a family we travel together to all the boxing events such is our love for the game!
Mum Loretta is a key member of Team McKenna and , has the task of keeping them all fed and ….under control!
So there you have it- the inside story of one family’s love for the Sport. The McKenna Family have done proud for their club and for the community not only in Monaghan but in far flung lands and in the weeks ahead we wish them every success in their role as ambassadors for Irish boxing.