November was a special month for Matthew McCole and his family as he finally captured an elusive national title.
The 21-year-old came up through the ranks with Dungloe Boxing Club and was a regular face at boxing events in Donegal and Ulster.
However, national glory had eluded him until late last year when he won the Senior (Intermediate) 69kg title after beating Galway’s Mark Sammon in the final at the National Stadium, Dublin.
“It was great to get it at long last. It was a long time coming,” said the affable McCole, who was this week named as the Donegal News Sports Personality of the Month award winner for November, in conjunction with Brian McCormick Sports & Leisure.
“From when I was young I was always looking for it and it was a hard luck story all the time and I was always getting beat by the eventual winners and so on.
“I had lost three National finals before and it was tough going but I kept at it and it was all worth it when I won it.
“To win best boxer on the night as well was just the cherry on top for me. It was unbelievable.”
It took McCole six attempts to finally lift an Ulster title, and he really started to kick on recently.
However, he still experienced three defeats in National finals which were hard to take, but motivated him to keep coming back for more.
“It’s only really in the last two or three years that I have been reaching National finals.
“Before that I was having trouble in getting past Ulster, and I was 16 when I eventually got through that.
“It was the Under 22s that I started to go well in and then I went away to Russia for the College Championships.
“I didn’t enter the Intermediates that year but this was my second year in them.
“I got to the final the first time I entered them, and back in November I went one step further I suppose.”
The McCole family are synonymous with boxing in Dungloe and Donegal, with Matthew’s grandfather Hudie McCole and father Jim McCole two well known personalities in the local boxing fraternity.
Matthew’s brother Mark and sister Niamh won plenty of titles when they were younger, and while that success didn’t quite happen for the youngest in the family, he wouldn’t give up and a move up from 64kgs to 69kgs seemed to help him.
“When you were young, you’d have a bad loss and say I’m not going back.
“But the family is so involved with my grandfather and my father, and they were always about the club so you couldn’t really give it up either.
“When you spend so much time giving it your all to try and win a national title, you can’t let that itch go and you need to try and scratch it off. You have to keep it going.”
Unfortunately, Matthew’s father Jim suffered a bad accident last year which saw him go into hospital.
That left the young boxer without a coach but he linked up with Illies Golden Gloves, and he says he received great support from their coaches in the lead up to the championships in November.
It is close to an hour-and-a-half journey from Dungloe to the Illies.
However, McCole studies Pharmaceutical & Medicinal Science in LYIT and was able to travel over from Letterkenny regularly.
He didn’t have it easy in the 69kgs weight division and had to come through four fights to win the title, while a cut to his face from a Ukranian opponent a few weeks beforehand almost ruled him out entirely.
However, he showed great form to make it through to the final and defeated Sammon by a unanimous decision.
“He made it scrappy and he was a bit of a lazy fighter and it was me that wanted it.
“He wasn’t fit enough so he was trying to drag it down. It was southpaw on southpaw too which doesn’t make for the nicest of fights.
“You have to get on with it and as long as you win you don’t care.”
There was pure delight for McCole after the fight and he was delighted to bask in the glory with those close to him, and it meant a lot to share his success with his father who is such a pivotal figure in his career.
“After the fight, my mum and my sister Niamh and my girlfriend Amy were there.
“It was tough that dad couldn’t be there because he has always been my coach but he was on the phone to mum the whole time and I was able to talk to him then.
“He was up in Dun Laoghaire so the next day we went out and showed him the trophy and the certificate.
“It was disappointing that couldn’t be there on the day but he was with me every step of the way.”
It was a great end to the year for McCole and he is hoping to push himself to new levels in 2020.
“Well my first fight of the year will be in two weeks’ time up in Buncrana at Illies’ show. I think I will be going back up to Dublin to fight in the return leg after that.
“I’m not quite sure yet if I will be going to the Ulster Elites. I haven’t done a huge amount yet. Dad was back for Christmas for a while so we just enjoyed that.
“The Colleges (Championships) will be on in March so I will be targeting them then.
“The Under 22s usually take place in January but they have moved to July this year so I will have to see what the story is with work and the college to see for them.
“Towards the end of the year, there will be the Irish Elites and I’ll target them too.
“I’ll try to develop into 69kgs this year and try and be ready for the step up in the Elites. Hopefully I can push on then and get another Irish title.”