BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME Shannon Sweeney is pictured at St Anne's Boxing Club in Westport last Friday evening.
St Anne’s Boxing Club’s latest National Elite champion, Shannon Sweeney, is looking forward to building on her recent success
STEP inside St Anne’s Boxing Club in Westport and you’re instantly greeted by a wall dedicated to the portraits of their many national champions.
In the 50 years of the famed club’s existence, they have forged and created champions of all shapes and sizes.
However, only two of the boxers on that illustrious wall can claim a national senior elite title to their name — Club President, Peter Mullen and current professional, Ray Moylette.
Under them hangs a picture of a young, baby-faced Shannon Sweeney, taken after her maiden national title win back in 2010.
Eight years on – and seven national titles later – the Westport teenager has now become only the third St Anne’s boxer to win a national senior elite title in the ring after she beat Carol Coughlan of Monkstown in a packed National Boxing Stadium on Saturday week last.
Less than a week later, and Shannon Sweeney was back on the heavy bag at the Pete Callaghan Centre, preparing for the Under-22 European Championships which take place in Romania at the end of this month.
Needless to say, her emotions were still soaring as the talented 19 year-old took off her gloves to sit down and discuss her heroics.
“It was such a buzz, just amazing,” she told The Mayo News. “The final bell was such a relief, it’s hard to explain!
“I remember going back to my corner and my coach was like: ‘It’s a close one, it could go either way’. And I thought, ‘maybe I didn’t do enough’. But once my hand was raised it was an amazing feeling.
“The emotions were high, it was unbelievable, I couldn’t believe it.”
Twelve months previous, Sweeney had stood in the exact same position, only to see her opponent’s hand raised after the final bell.
She was disappointed with her performance that night, but it gave her vital experience and motivation to come back swinging this year.
“I got straight to the final last year, but I was fighting Kristine O’Hara,” she said. “It was my first experience in the elite final and I got a bit of a shock with the huge crowd as my previous fights were nowhere near as big as that.
“Kristine is a great fighter. She has two silver medals in the Europeans and one gold, but I didn’t stop. I worked even harder and came back stronger this year and won it.”
ON first impressions it’s difficult to decipher how the personal training student at the Galway Technical Institute (GTI) can pack such a punch: “People always say that to me,” she laughed.
At 48kg she’s small in stature, and her pink hand wraps reflect her gentle nature and softly-spoken voice.
But once that bell rings you get to see another side to her persona when she hits the pads with her coach Martin Brennan. She has worked with him since she walked through the club doors many years ago and describes him as an ‘incredible coach’.
“I think I was eight or nine when I first started boxing,” she explained. “My sisters, friends and cousins all came with me for a bit of craic, but they kind of gradually dropped out and I stayed at it because I instantly loved it.
“Right now, I couldn’t see myself without it. I’m the only girl left in the club, bar Laura Moran. I’d love to see more girls in the club.
“I think they don’t want to get beaten up and they feel they might have their nose broken, but that’s not the case at all.”
When you hear Shannon Sweeney’s training schedule, it’s easy to see how she has become an Irish elite champion.
She trains twice a day, seven days a week and sacrifices her social life without any regrets in order to reach her dream.
“That’s the hardest part about it, being in Galway and all the girls are asking if I want to go out and I’m always saying, ‘No, I can’t,” she smiled. “I’m just really strict on myself, but I love the sport and it’s what I want to do… I live and dream it.
“The social life and that doesn’t really bother me. All my friends are jealous because I won the elites and they are like, ‘Oh you’re famous now’. And I’m just like, ‘Whatever!’. But they’re like ‘Really, we’re so proud of you’.”
No rest for the wicked
TODAY (Tuesday), St Anne’s latest champion will be in the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, Dublin for a four-day training camp in preparation for the European Championships where she will train alongside the country’s best boxing talent.
She’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of her both her idols, Katie Taylor and Ray Moylette, in achieving European and World success.
The Paris Olympic Games in 2024 is her long term goal where she will be looking to compete atw 51kg.
Although she candidly admitted to ‘always knocking herself down’ and still ‘building confidence’, it’s plain to see the natural determination that burns behind her timid shell.
“I want to go the Europeans and win gold, that’s the plan first,” she said. “Then onto the Worlds, and then the Olympics is what I would like to get to.
“It [Olympics] would be an amazing experience. It would be phenomenal to get there, words can’t describe it.
“But it’s all a stepping stone from here and I will take it one step at a time. I’m not making promises, but that’s the plan.”
Best of luck to whoever gets in her way.