Craig O’Brien will make his return to the ring next month following his maiden title victory, as his remarkable story continues with pace.
Last month the inner-city light middleweight claimed the BUI Celtic title, and will look to round of a brilliant 2017 with a win at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road.
O’Brien will fight on the massive Celtic Clash 4 card – the largest in Irish boxing history – which is headlined by former top amateur and RTÉ pundit Eric Donovan who defends his BUI Celtic featherweight title against Juancho Gonzalez, while there is also Dublin grudge match between Dubliner’s Crank Whitehouse and Jay Byrne for the BUI Celtic welterweight belt.
O’Brien’s star has risen exponentially in recent times following his title win against Frenchman Alain Alfred. Since this tough victory, which also played out at the National Stadium, the Northsider has been paraded at half-time at Dalymount Park during a Bohemian FC game and was given a civic reception with the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House.
The likeable local lad is delighted with the recognition – but is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. O’Brien notes how “I’m getting more recognition, it’s good. I’m a true believer that hard work pays off. I’m not blowing my own trumpet, but if you’re good enough to win it, why not fight for it?
I’ll push on, eventually I want the Irish title next year. The recognition is coming with the hard work – but if you were to ask me is it a little bit big compared to others…. yeah it’s definitely a little bit big! It’s all part of the game.”
“I’m still training hard. After the last fight I didn’t celebrate much, I was back in the gym training away and now I’m back out on the 2nd of December. You get up early in the morning to run, and if you have the thought of why you’re running, the belt, eventually the Irish title, it gives you motivation to keep moving forward.”
The boxing ring, more than most sports, is somewhere you can’t rest on your laurels. Lives can change in a split-second, with one punch, one mistake. This could be vividly seen in O’Brien’s last fight where he was floored heavily in the opening round. The Celtic Warriors Gym fighter though battled back to win on points.
Reflecting on that fight, O’Brien describes how “it was a good learning fight, an eight round learning fight. Being knocked down early on, some fighters can’t recover from it, some fighters get a shock, so it’s good to know that I can – which I don’t want to be doing again anytime soon. All the hard work, all the sacrifices paid off there.
Recovering from that knockdown, is all the graft I put in, all the training, all the eating well, all the dieting well, all the early nights and long runs, all that paid off. Getting knocked down and coming back to recover, you can say that at least I can do it – but at the end of the day, I shouldn’t have got caught in the first place. That’s the bit I’m annoyed with, but we’ll come back and learn.”
Born and bred around the Henrietta Street Flats, being a champion boxer looked to be a million miles away for O’Brien at one stage. In his younger days O’Brien got mixed up in drug use and had numerous spells in jail, but turned his life around following the birth of his first child and his subsequent return to boxing.
O’Brien doesn’t shy away from his past, indeed it motivates him with the 28 year old explaining :”Does it help me? Yes, it does. If I think where I was when I was 17, 18, 19, it makes me one hundred percent stronger, seeing where I am now.
That’ll help me in the long run, whether it be in a fight, a camp, or whatever. I’ve had tough times – and that’s through no-one’s fault other than my own, at that age you think you know everything.”
“Just as well I went to boxing at eight years old and I was half-decent at it. So I knew people around it, in it, and I was able to fall back in. Not that I said one day when I was 21 or 22, ‘I’m going to be a pro,’ that never happened.
I just went to the gym to stay fit, stay active, and along the lines I met people, good friends of mine like my old trainer Niall Byrne, that shaped me into getting fit and becoming a professional boxer.”
“I’d be in Cabra Boxing Club some nights, I help out up there, I like to give back. It’s something I’m going to get my own young fella into eventually, boxing is a brilliant sport, whether it be competing or just to give you confidence, discipline, and character.
I’m delighted with my first belt, it’s been a dream, everything after it has been a dream. I never thought I’d be here, with the story I’ve had, where I’ve been. So being here now, all of that has shaped me, it made me stronger and strong-minded. I’m a strong-minded person, I’ll keep moving forward and hopefully I’ll get the Irish title next year.”
Celtic Clash 4 also features Sheriff Street’s Bernard Roe and East Wall’s Jake Hanney, as well as Colin O’Donovan, Vladimir Belujsky, John Joyce, Regan Buckley, Stephen McAfee, James Cahill, Martin Quinn, Dylan McDonagh, Thomas Finnegan, and Niall O’Connor.
Tickets for the card cost €30, €40, €60, and €100 and can be purchased from Craig at 085 107 8220 or via Ticketmaster.