Meet Kildare and boxing’s rising star

HE might not have won his national final but one day soon Chris Phelan will win one. He’s determined. He’s talented. He’s committed.

HE might not have won his national final but one day soon Chris Phelan will win one. He’s determined. He’s talented. He’s committed.

Less than a fortnight ago Phelan, a Kildare Town native, made his debut as a finalist at the Elite Senior Championships at the National Stadium. He comfortably marched in to the final against Michael Conlon in the flyweight division.

The 18-year-old ran in to a commanding 4-1 lead after the first and stretched that to 5-1 early in the second round. His Belfast opponent came back strong however and led 7-5 at the end of the penultimate round and in the end took the title.

Phelan was gutted. Feels some decisions went against him. He’s patient though. Is full sure he’ll win a senior title and is willing to wait.

“This time last year if someone had said to me I’d be beaten in a senior final a year later I wouldn’t have believed them. I couldn’t have imagined it so from that point of view I’m delighted to have got to a final. But I’m gutted I didn’t win it.

“When I started off boxing for decisions I was eleven years of age and I got beaten in three Irish finals. I didn’t win my first Irish title until I was 14. Most people would have given it up by then but I stuck it out and I got there in the end. If you stick it out and train hard enough you’ll get what you want. I believe I will win an Irish senior title. It might be next year, or even two, three or four years away I don’t mind,” the Ryston BC club man told the Leinster Leader this week.

Eleven years have passed since a seven year old Phelan first walked through the doors of Ryston Boxing Club in Newbridge. From the very beginning he loved it. He wasn’t intimidated, took to it like the proverbial duck to water.

“I used to do karate out in Milltown and when I was seven my dad brought me to Ryston to try out boxing because he knew some of the coaches there. I went down that first day and never left it since. I love it and took to it straight away and have been boxing ever since,” he explained.

Boxing is a family tradition. His uncle Paddy is head coach in the newly formed St Brigid’s, a club Chris could have joined if it wasn’t for his loyal nature.

“My uncle (Paddy Phelan) opened the club in Kildare Town (St Brigid’s BC) and my cousins changed from Ryston to Kildare and I could have too but I didn’t want to leave Ryston. I’m with Ryston eleven years this year and I’ve won nine Irish titles with the club so I’m not going to leave them after everything they’ve done for me. I do a bit of training down in Kildare myself if I can’t make it over to Ryston but Paddy (Phelan) understands why I don’t want to change clubs. They wouldn’t expect me to change either,” admitted the amiable youngster.

Chris Phelan loves his club as the above suggests. He believes his record is down to coaching received at Ryston. They are the Irish Amateur Boxing Association Club of the Year after all and, as Chris explains, hold a record that he can’t see being broken any time soon.

“In the space of twelve months I’ve won four Irish titles and been beaten in the senior finals. I was at the World (Youth) Championships too and all over the world in the last year. Packo Hughes is one of the coaches in the club but he’s also a High Performance coach and he was away with me for a trip to Serbia, where he was head coach, and I got boxer of the tournament. It goes to show you what a good club they are. This year they got an Irish record for the most national titles won in a year. They won 19 titles and I can’t see that record been broking easily,” he predicted.

Phelan has decided to concentrate on boxing full time. He’s a member of the High Performance senior team, along with the likes of Kenny Egan, Paddy Barnes and John Joe Joyce and he’s almost star struck by the established. This week he’s in Templemore for a nine day training camp along with all the boxers the young Kildare man looks up to.

“It’s great to be involved with the High Performance team. I’m loving it. Sparring with the likes of Paddy Barnes, a Commonwealth gold medalist, a European gold medalist and an Olympic bronze medalist, is fantastic. I’ve also sparred with John Joe Nevin who got a medal at the World Championships and sometimes you have to pinch yourself.

“Boxing in Ireland have the top men. They have the likes of Billy Walsh and John Cleary who know what they’re doing. They’re not just talking, they’ve been there and done it,” he remarked.

Many thought losing the senior final was Phelan’s chance at qualification for the 2012 Olympics gone. He was one of them. However, rumours have been circulating that he may still get the chance of making it across the water to London next summer.

“I wasn’t thinking about London when I was training for the seniors. I was just taking it one fight at a time but I knew if I won I had a chance of going to the qualifiers. I got beaten though and I thought my chance was gone. Since though, there have been people saying that there might be a box off for the qualifiers, so it’s like getting second chance. There were a few upsets in the seniors, lads like John Joe Joyce, Eric Donovan and Kenny Egan are all gone. You can’t take away from the lads that beat them and fair play to them but there were a lot of lads hard done by. That’s not the boxers fault, it’s the judges that are looking at the fight. I haven’t seen my fight yet (national final) but I was told I hit him with a one/two and he got two points. All I could do was go hell for leather and throw everything at it. I’ve had plenty of bad decisions before even at World Championships where I got beaten and shouldn’t and my opponent went on and won it out. It’s so frustrating,” he said.

Luckily time is on his side. Phelan doesn’t turn 19 until July but even so he’d love to be part of an Irish team travelling across the Irish sea to London next year.

“I’d rather go to the next one. Paddy Barnes was only about 21 when he got a medal in Beijing and Kenny Egan and Darren Sutherland were about 26. I’m only 18 so I have time. In another four years after London I’ll only be 23 when the Rio De Janeiro Olympics come around and I’ll even be young enough for the one after that. If I don’t make London I have time but I just have to see what happens. It would be nice to go next year though!” admitted Phelan.

The past twelve months have been remarkable for Chris. He claimed the national Under 18 title, the Under 21 title and made it all the way to a senior final.

He represented his country at the World Championships, where he was beaten by the eventual winner.

There isn’t a question about this guys’ talent. Speaking to him it’s clear there isn’t a question about his determination, his intelligence or his drive either and no doubt Kildare would be proud to have him represent the county and Ireland at the Olympics if not in London than in the Games that follow thereafter.

Get used to Chris Phelan’s name because one thinks he will make plenty of headlines in the years to come.