By Gavan Casey
I’m in a local grocery shop in Corduff on an attempted pilgrimage to what is fast becoming the Mecca of Irish boxing. My phone is of course dead, I’m covered in sweat, and having been sent on several wild goose chases by the Dublin 15 locals, I’m entirely devoid of hope.
“Yeah, it’s just upstairs. Sure, there’s Paschal now!”
The shop assistant instantly cuts a nigh on saintly figure in my eyes, as she points over my shoulder to where Irish Trainer of the Year, Paschal Collins, is simultaneously dragging a gas cylinder while speaking frantically down the phone about a potential fight.
It’s Thursday in Celtic Warrior Boxing Gym.
The gym itself seems to dwarf the shop it crowns; this expansive, multi-coloured hub of both professional and social activity has, particularly in recent months, birthed the careers of some of boxing’s brightest stars. Belfast cruiserweight standout Tommy McCarthy warms up at the far end while London fan-favourite Frank Buglioni is greeted with fist bumps and hearty hellos.
The collective desire for success is almost instantly palpable; the sparring between the likes of WBO #5 ranked lightweight Stephen Ormond and Olympic medalist Michael Conlan, at times, is mesmeric.
TWENTY EYES ARE BETTER THAN TWO
“Boxing is an individual sport but this gym is a bit unique I think,” Cork’s middleweight maestro Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan tells me.
“We’re all friends for life. It’s a great camaraderie.
There’s an awful predicament for Valentine’s night – we’re all in trouble with the missus because we’re all travelling to England. Luke Keeler is fighting in Blackpool on Prizefighter and Stephen Ormond is fighting Terry Flanagan in Wolverhampton.
Choices have to be made but Paschal is obviously the main man, and what we’ve decided to do is, I’m going to go over and do Luke’s corner with Steve Collins – both of us being middleweights – and Paschal is going to travel up to do Stephen Ormond’s corner.
Usually we’d all go together, even when I fought in America. It’s one of the first of Steve Ormond’s fights that I’ll have missed – we always go to each other’s fights. We follow each other around the world.”
There is a recurring description from all of the Celtic Warrior fighters which reflects each individual’s respect and admiration for their famed trainer. Without exception, each – at one point or another – refers to Paschal Collins as the main man.
Fresh off his devastating first round knockout of bitter rival Anthony Fitzgerald, and with one eye on hypothetical opponents for a potential Madison Square Garden headline slot, O’Sullivan – now signed to Ken Casey in the States – reveals a tactic that symbolises this described ‘camaraderie’ ethos. I would later discuss it in greater detail with his trainer.
“When one of us gets an opponent, we all chip in with our two cents. Strengths, weaknesses. We discuss it together at length. We’re all after looking at Terry Flanagan ahead of Steve Ormond’s fight. We’ve all had a look at Luke’s potential opponents for Prizefighter,” Spike says.
Twenty eyes are better than two.”
I’m met by the typically friendly embrace of lightweight star Stephen Ormond. The Dubliner is conspicuously brimful of confidence following what was supposed to be ‘soft’ sparring with Michael Conlan, ahead of his WBO European title fight this weekend.
Along with training, Ormond has also just finished a day’s filming with television presenter and fight fanatic Aidan Power, who has been following the lightweight’s career on camera since his controversial points defeat to Paul Appleby three years ago. The pair’s acclaimed documentary series has aired on Setanta Sports, and continues to shoot as Ormond strives towards world honours.
“Everyone is welcome. It’s just so friendly, which is the best thing. Everyone can gather here. It’s almost like a little therapy session for the fighters at times, you know? Have a cup of coffee, watch the sparring and have a yap,” Ormond chuckles.
“The gym is booming. Great middleweights here. And I’m personally getting a load of superb sparring ahead of my own fight.
Paschal looks after you – and he’s like that with everybody. He’s warm and welcoming, and he’s a great coach. It spreads out and we’re like a family now. We’re all on the same wave length because we’re all after the same thing. We all want that world title.”
The aforementioned middleweights are of course Spike O’Sullivan and Luke Keeler, the latter of whom is attending a promo shoot for Saturday’s Prizefighter tournament in Blackpool. Keeler has moved to favourite with the bookmakers to become the Celtic Warrior Gym’s second champion in as many Prizefighter events – an unprecedented feat.
And though any keen observer of the sport could suggest the favourite tag is merely befitting of ‘Cool Hand’ Luke’s undeniable talent, the Dubliner enters Saturday’s tournament as the least experienced contestant with only seven fights to his name.
Favourite status with the bookies is likely indicative of what may be perceived as an external ‘fear factor’ caused by the gym’s red-hot momentum – a momentum spearheaded by then three-fight novice Jono Carroll’s personal Rocky saga, en route to a shock Prizefighter title of his own last December.
Carroll’s signing with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom has further stoked the Celtic Warrior fire, and given Hearn’s rave reviews of Luke Keeler last November, similar prizes may lay in store for the 27 year old if he can keep his head as cool as his hands in Blackpool this Saturday.
“The big difference for me is the gym and how good Paschal is as a trainer,” likeable London import Frank Buglioni tells me.
In a reversal of sorts, the 25 year old super middleweight prospect crossed the Irish Sea on a permanent basis to seek Collins’ guidance following a stoppage defeat to Sergey Khomitsky. ‘Wise Guy’ Buglioni returns on February 28th in his home city, on the back of two solid victories under Celtic Warrior tutelage.
“I’ve got a great setup here to train and to learn. For me, this is the place I want to become a world champion. This is the place to do it.
Paschal sets the standard. He only brings boys in who give 110%, and in that sense we all bring each other on. Anyone who doesn’t give maximum effort doesn’t last the test of time here.
On top of that hard work ethic you’ve got genuine world class training with Paschal and Steve Collins. They’ve got a wealth of experience in that they’ve been there and done it.”
Buglioni describes the level of sparring as ‘top class,’ another recurring plaudit from all Celtic Warrior fighters. The likes of Martin Murray, Billie-Joe Saunders, Joe Ward and Michael Conlan are merely a handful of those currently operating on a world level – both amateur and professional – known to have been drafted in to aid the respective preparations of house fighters.
To some extent an outsider looking in, Olympic bronze medalist Conlan admits that it’s too soon to commit to a gym ahead of a professional career that, until Rio 2016 at least, remains hypothetical. Making his second appearance in the gym, the bashful bantamweight’s flurries of physical devilment (he shadow-boxed me instantly as we met) certainly seem to comfortably amalgamate with the frantic, family atmosphere in Corduff.
But would the Belfast man consider a permanent residence here eighteen months down the line?
“It’s a possibility, for sure. I’ve seen some world class sparring from the lads. Paschal’s got a great stable here, and they all seem to be winning.
They’re all aiming towards something which is exciting for them. They all either have professional deals or they’re getting professional deals.
It’s a fantastic gym, and it’s definitely good to see.”
Conlan’s exhilarating sparring with Ormond is of a mutual benefit; the night before ‘The Rock’ aims to become European champion in Wolverhampton, Conlan travels to Poland for a World Series of Boxing showdown with former foe Sylwester Kozlowski.
Indeed, the next six weeks look set to be a defining period for the Celtic Warrior family, with fighters appearing on major cards in the UK and Ireland in the last three weekends of February, as well as a potential Madison Square Garden show on St. Patrick’s weekend.
There’s certainly no danger of the abundant friendliness emanating beyond gym boundaries, as Stephen Ormond, Frank Buglioni and comrades aim to sustain the most imperative of sporting elements – momentum – en route to achieving their collective objective.
But while it’s clear that Corduff’s Celtic Warriors bestow their recently garnered, freight train-like success onto their trainer and mentor, what say the main man himself?
Check back with Doran’s Boxing Blog soon for another exclusive interview – an insight into the mind of Irish Trainer of the Year, Paschal Collins.
Gavan can be contacted on Twitter: @GavanCasey or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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