BY CHRIS MCNULTY
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights,” – Muhammad Ali
IT IS not yet dawn on a freezing Tuesday morning in early November and for most in the sleepy east Donegal townland of Mongavlin it is not yet time to wake.
Yet, from the shadows into the flickering streetlights there emerges a hooded figure, cut from stealthy cloth who’s off out on a 5k jog that has become part and parcel of the daily routine, no matter the weather.
It has become a choice not a chore and it’s the daily ritual for Brett McGinty, who trains every night of the week at the Oakleaf ABC in Derry’s Brandywell. He just turned 14 in September and yet he displays all the hallmarks of a seasoned champion.
But then, in the lonely world of the fighter in a sport that is, at best, unforgiving, developing the thick skin, the disciplined mind, the determined streak and the ruthless edge are a must for those who survive.
McGinty’s artistry of the sweet science is a rising stock.
Last month he became only the third Donegal boxer to medal at the European Schoolboy Championships in Anapa, Russia.
“I took a break after I came back from Russia, but I’m back on the roads flat out now,” says the second-year pupil at Raphoe’s Deele College.
“I usually start around 7 in the morning, I just go from the house to Porthall and back. It’s not easy, but I just do it. It has to be done.”
The bloodlines always decreed that sport would be his forté. Maurice Toland, who memorably netted two goals on the night Finn Harps first clinched promotion to the Premier Division of the League of Ireland in 1996, is his uncle, a brother of his mother Kate. His father Dessie is a well-known figure in local soccer for his trojan work with the Kildrum Tigers club and his brother Shane was signed up during the summer by the 2012 League of Ireland Premier Division winners Sligo Rovers, while eldest brother Johnny has won two Ulster Senior Leagues with Kildrum.
For the youngest McGinty, boxing has become his game – and with good reason.
In following Michael Gallagher and Stephen O’Reilly onto the medals roster in Astana last month, McGinty was part of the most successful ever Irish team to compete in those Championships in their decade of existence, returning to the Dublin airport runway with ten medals, including McGinty’s bronze.
He sealed bronze following a 19-12 win over Armenia’s Gurgen Madoyan, having previously scored a 16-7 win over Israeli Michael Katz. At the Kubanskaya Niva venue in Anapa, a town in the Krasnodar Krai region of Russia, nestled on the banks of the Black Sea, McGinty gloved off with Russian Havazh Mutsolgov in the semi-finals. It was the luck of the draw working against McGinty, who was beaten 10-6 – but not before putting in a rugged third round performance.
Down 7-3 at the end of the second round, McGinty dusted himself for the third and final round in search of silver. There, he more than matched the Russian, but Mutsolgov’s defence was watertight for the most part and McGinty found it hard to score.
Bronze was bagged for the youngster, who boxes out of the Oakleaf club.
“When I was out there I wasn’t satisfied with the bronze,” he says. “I wanted to get at the final, but when I came back I was happy to have a medal.
“Gold was what I wanted. The way it was, I was just thinking coming back: ‘I can’t wait to get at the Russian again’.
“It was a tight enough fight and I won the last round against him.
“If I had met any of the other two fighters, I would have had a bigger chance of winning it. The Russian was really powerful – he stopped his opponent in the quarter-final and won the final handy enough, too.
“I’d like to meet him again sometime to see how I’d do.”
McGinty won a Cadet title in May, the second title in the National Stadium he scooped in as many months and a string of Schoolboy titles and Ulster and National level have been won by the lad trained at Oakleaf.
His performances in Russia in October led the Irish Schoolboys team manager Paddy Gallagher to insist that he was ‘destined for a promising international career’.
At the time, Gallagher told the Donegal News from Russia: “He’ll be happy with a bronze medal. These are the European Championships after all and he’s a good lad.
“He’s showed that he has the abilities needed to campaign at the highest level and a promising International career looks to be his future.”
The Donegal News took McGinty by surprise on Wednesday afternoon when we turned up to make the presentation to McGinty, earlier this week named as our Sports Personality of the Month Award winner for October, joining Michael Gallagher, the previous boxing winner from earlier in the year.
“I knew nothing about it,” he said. “Mr McGowan came looking for me in the morning and asked if I’d be in all day. I thought I was in trouble! Then he called us out and it was a pleasant surprise to get this award; it’s great.”
The Ulster Nine Counties Championships are on the horizon for December. His next competitive fight will be in the Championships. For now, he’s away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and, before sunrise each morning, pounding the roads.
It’s almost time to dance under the lights again and this focussed young man wants to make sure he’s ready when the spotlight shines.