Ballybofey man Eunan Devenney shattered a world record on Saturday, when he completed a knockout 45 hours 4 minutes hitting a punch bag. Chris McNulty watched his exploits.
IT’S JUST gone 2.19am on Saturday morning when, deep in the basement of Dunfril House on Ballybofey’s Chestnut Road, a thunderous roar emerges into the drizzling night sky.
Inside, a large crowd has huddled into the spacious surroundings. They’ve come to see history written in a little corner of the Twin Towns that had previously been unknown to many of them.
Eunan Devenney has always spent countless hours in the gym of the Twin Towns ABC.
Now, there’s a difference: This time he has to have them counted – there’s a record at stake.
Devenney has been punching a 100lb punch bag since 10am on Thursday morning and Eamon McAuley has emerged at the ropes to inform the swelling crowd ‘We’re just 20 minutes away from the world record folks’.
Ten years ago, Devenney set a new record when he punched for just over 24 hours. Last July, he began training with the 36 hours and 3 minutes of American Ron Sarchian his goal. Since that, he learned that Englishman Tom Varley had broken the 38 hour barrier in South Africa, so the bar had been raised.
Sons Niall, Cahir and Sean are at ringside as the clock ticks down. Little Seanie urges ‘Come on Daddy, you can do it’.
The crowds continue to stream in, the scent of the record filling the air, and Terry O’Reilly observes: “Three big milestones this week – the Queen came, Obama saw and now Eunan Devenney is going to conquer.”
With the record just five minutes away, Stephen O’Reilly steps in with some encouragement: “It’s in your hands now, nice and relaxed now.”
Then the markers: four minutes; three minutes; a nod from Shane McHugh on the clock to signal two minutes; into the last minute and Eamon McAuley urges ‘come on Euney, nearly there now’; then the countdown, TEN, NINE – each digit chanted with a greater vigour than the previous – EIGHT, SEVEN – a smile crossing Devenney’s path as the pace quickens – SIX, FIVE, FOUR, snappers poised for the historic photograph, THREE, TWO, ONE…BANG!! 2.39am and Eunan Devenney has punched his way into the history books again.
With the record broken, there’s not much hope of Eunan stopping. The power-packed atmosphere has whetted his appetite for it and stopping isn’t in his vocabulary.
“I want to make this unbreakable,” he mentions as mentors Barry Gillespie and Eamon McAuley are in straight away to see to the bandages on his shattered hands.
“I’m so, so proud of him,” his partner Terry Brady, who hardly missed a punch, says as she gets the snacks ready.
“From the day he started training, there’s been no doubt in my mind that he could do it. ‘Wee buns’ he used to say to me. It’s hard watching him. It was especially at the start when he couldn’t get into a rhythm.
“Once he found that, it became easier. He has just been so focussed and the crowd has really helped him.”
It had all started at 10am on Thursday when Sean McGarrigle got the official clock ticking. Under the constant watch of three witnesses – one a boxing witness and two independent witnesses – and with a camera provided by Gerard McCloskey of Kelco Communications, Eunan’s sights were firmly on entering the record books again.
“The big thing is the mind. If you mind tells you that you can do something then you can,” he shouts from the centre of the ring, his punch-rate higher perhaps than it should be.
Sixteen minutes in, he tells this writer, “I have no doubt that I’ll be here at 38 hours. No way will I give up, not a hope!”
“If a guy in Cape Town can do it, and if a guy in California can do it, then a guy in Ballybofey can do it. The record was in Cape Town, the record was in Califonia – now, it’s coming to Donegal.
“The fact that the guy who broke it in South Africa was English adds to the motivation a wee bit too!”
Day one wasn’t without its problems. Inside the first five hours, he had a sore neck and he sustained a cut on one of his hands.
“We got the bandages changed and he was flying after that,” Barry Gillespie mentioned. “Once we got him sailed through the night, when we did the four-hour shifts, it was just like a new day again on Friday.”
The new day had a tough beginning. Around the 24-hour mark, he hit the ‘wall’ and the signs on it weren’t looking good. But he found inspiration at the perfect time.
“My head went down and the pain in my hands and knees got very bad. I was only half-way through. I happened to look up at a sign above the ring from my three sons – Niall, Cahir and Sean – and that drove me on,” he said after his record-breaking exploits.
All through the marathon session, he had a trusted team of allies at his side. As well as his partner Terry and other family members, his loyal corner men Barry Gillespie, Stephen O’Reilly, Gary McCullagh, Shane McHugh, Brian Anderson and Eamon McAuley were on hand with the supplies whenever they were required.
The Finn Harps team had called in after their win over Athlone on Thursday night and on Friday a steady stream continued to fill down the handful of steps into an arena that was quickly becoming the talk of the Twin Towns.
“Rocky’s the man, press play on Rocky there Chris,” instructs Devenney to this writer. With that Rocky II was on view again in one corner of the ring, Devenney taking the odd glance at the boxing classic in between his conversations with the well-wishers.
As Friday became Saturday, a real buzz filled a gym that is a ‘hidden gem’ of sorts – a hub of activity that is tucked neatly away in a quiet corner off Chestnut Road – and the outpouring of delight as the killer punch was thrown was quite the experience.
In a darkened corner of the Twin Towns gym, Barry Gillespie has lost track of time. Having sifted his way through jaffa cakes, nuts, brown bread, pasta, tuna, fruit cocktails and other such supplies for his man through the last two days, that’s quite understandable.
“It’s a long sit, but at this stage we’re past tiredness.” he smiles. “The people coming and going really helped him.”
Eunan Devenney is an iconic figure in the Twin Towns ABC. Stephen O’Reilly has been one of his star pupils in recent times – and the 22-year old wasn’t passing the opportunity to return a favour to his mentor.
“When he came into the ring to start the punch-out on Thursday I just thought about the hours he has put in with me during my career, and when that’s all calculated to stay her until he made 38 hours wasn’t a lot.
“It’s great to see him break the record. It brings something different to the club and brings it to a new level. You can just see what it means to people, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and this place is jammed.”
Over eight hours after passing the record, the crowds had again streamed as word filtered round the locality that he’d be calling time when he reached the 45-hour mark. A little over it, another countdown later and a cracking three minutes that could have seen him out down the best of the punchers, 10.41am on Saturday saw him strike the bag for one, last, powerful hurrah.
Eddie Dupris, in Million Dollar Baby, observed: “If there’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”
Eunan Devenney had a dream. He fought beyond endurance. He fulfilled the dream and felt the magic.