BY CHRIS MCNULTY
ONE of the traits that characterise the great sportspeople is the ability to put even their greatest triumphs aside and move on to their next challenge, continuing to feed that never-ending zest for success.
Brian Cody has guided the Kilkenny hurlers to nine All-Ireland titles since 2000 and his thirst is as great as it ever was. It’s the same all across the globe in any sport – and the ability to do it is what marks out the greats from the good.
In 2007, Manchester United ended a four-year drought in the FA Premier League and that summer their manager, Alex Ferguson, set the target for the new-comers to his squad who’d just savoured their maiden piece of glory.
“After you have won a trophy, you enjoy it but the next day it leaves you and the hard works begins again,” he said.
“You’re looking for the next one, the next challenge and that is what drives the best players on.
“If you achieve anything it creates excitement, develops you as a person and gives you the understanding not to lose and to go on and win again.”
Last week, Jason Quigley won the middleweight title at the European Under 23 Boxing Championships, the 21-year old Finn Valley ABC man becoming the first ever Irish boxer to win two European gold medals having won a European Youth title in 2009.
Welcomed back to Stranorlar last week after a gruelling championships in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, Quigley was quickly setting his sights on his next challenge.
Quigley goes in the Irish Elite Senior Championships in February – and ‘Sniff Jnr’ has a little revenge mission on his mind. The middleweight category could be a minefield.
The Twin Towns ABC boxer Steven O’Reilly is a likely challenger and there remains the presence of Darren O’Neill, the Kilkenny southpaw who defeated Quigley in the 2011 final – and who Quigley has his crosshairs fixed upon.
“He is the same as myself – basically I’m looking to take his title and he’s looking to hold onto his title,” Quigley said.
“Hopefully one day he’ll be looking across me thinking: I want to get my title back off this boy. That is my aim.
“It isn’t just Darren O’Neill because there are a lot of good middleweight boxers in Ireland at the minute. You can’t look past anyone because Irish boxing is on such a high at the minute. Definitely, though, there is a wee bit of a rivalry between us and I suppose I am after a bit of revenge too.
“The aim is to knock him off his throne, but I’m sure there are one or two other boys looking to do the same to me, as well as Darren.”
In 2009, when Quigley won the European Youths in Poland, he was operating at 69kgs, but moved into the middleweight division when he entered the senior boxing ranks. And his recent exploits in Russia mean he heads into 2013 in the perfect form.
“I’m coming into it nicely,” he agreed.
“My last European title I was boxing at 69kgs, but I was only making it ok and I knew in time that I’d have to move up.
“I moved to 75kgs not long after that when I moved into senior boxing. It wasn’t easy stepping into senior boxing, let alone stepping up a weight at the same time.
“I’m starting to mature into this weight now. It has taken me a year or two and I’m getting there. I’m feeling really comfortable at 75kgs now.”
Quigley was back into training on Wednesday when he did the Finn Valley Athletic club’s St Stephen’s Day 5k. A fight opportunity may arise in January ahead of the national seniors, but he’s in good shape after taking gold in Russia.
He said: “The Europeans were massive. to get five fights in a week over there should stand by me hugely for my senior championships. To get those kind of fights, not just any old fight, against top-class boxers in Europe, and the experience that goes with that is unreal.”
Russia, the home country, took six of the ten gold medals at the European U23s, with Azerbaijan, Armenia and Ukraine also winning one – meaning Quigley was the only western European boxer to win gold. He German opponent Deniss Radovan 17-11 in the final at the Kaliningrad Sports Palace.
Earlier in the tournament, Quigley overcame Adam Grabecz (16-3), Deniss Kormilin (19-7), Victor Carapchevschii (12-9) and Russian Maksim Timofeev (15-13).
The magitude of his win was not lost on the modest Ballybofey man – who admitted he was ‘overwhelmed’ at the turnout in Stranorlar for his homecoming.
He said: “It’s a massive achivement for me. Before I went out I was thinking: It’d be great to get a medal out there. It’s the same for any boxer; no-one wants to come home empty handed. Russia is such a force in amateur boxing, then you have the huge size of a pick they have and the support they have. For such a small country like Ireland and a small town like Ballybofey to be lifting European title in Russia, I know is a massive title.
“All of those countries are very strong – and you always know that you’re up against it boxing against anyone from any of those countries. These are the European Championships, so the countries all send their number one boxers. Coming up against a number one from any of them will be someone to be reckoned with.”
The win was extra special for the Quigley household at The Beeches as Jason’s dad, Conor, was in his corner alongside Zuar Antia.
“It’s special to win a title at anytime, but it’s even better when you’ve your father in your corner,” Jason said.
“It was a very proud moment for myself and my father.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had – and I’m sure it’s the same for dad. He’s been by my side and has been training me since I was a young fella since we started going running on the beach. He’s been there trying to make sure that I get the best out of my talent. Only for him I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Jason spent some time earlier in the year sparring with Nathan Cleverly, the light heavyweight champion of the world, in Wales. “I think that’s where he blossomed from. His first target after that was the national under 23s,” Conor said.
For Jason, the European triumph was just the next phase of a development that has been in the making for sometime.
He said: “I’ve been boxing since I was ten years of age. The first six or seven years it’s like a hobby and you enjoy doing everything. When you get to 17 or 18, you need to make the decision whether or not it’ll become your life and you’ll dedicate everything to it.
“It’s my life. That is what I get up in the morning for. This is what I want to do and where I want to go is to be the best at my sport. To do that you have to be 100 per cent dedicated for it.”
Having boxed last year in the World Series of Boxing with the LA Matadors, Jason had offers to go back this year, but having won the Irish U23s, he declined, following consultation with Billy Walsh, Team Ireland Boxing Head Coach, to concentrate on the Europeans.
Now, the national seniors appear on the radar.
Quigley said: “I just want to keep going the way I’m going, keep lifting gold medals and taking out anyone who steps in my way.
“Every man gets in there for himself. That’s the way I look at it: It doesn’t matter who is at the opposite end of the ring, he’s there to take a medal off me or take something off me. I want to keep dedicated to my sport and keep it going the way it is.”
Onto the next fight, the next challenge, the next step. Just like the great champions.