Waiting for the bell: Limerick boxer Graham McCormack fights for ringside dream

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Graham McCormack spars with proud son Dylan, 2, ahead of his professional debut in Dublin this Saturday Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Graham McCormack spars with proud son Dylan, 2, ahead of his professional debut in Dublin this Saturday Picture: Brendan Gleeson

A NEW professional boxing hopeful from Limerick city will enter the ring this weekend.

For his debut fight, 30-year-old Graham McCormack, from Raheen, will take on Hungarian opponent Richard Baba at the National Stadium in Dublin on Saturday night.

Confident about the four-round bout, the Light Middleweight father-of-four said: “I am fighting for my family, fighting for my city, and showing everyone what I am about.” Graham, who has 15 years’ amateur experience, said he will dedicate his first match to his late grandfather Gus Williams, who passed away on November 8.

Former St Francis boxing clubmate, Andy Lee wished the the contender the best of luck, adding that “it is a hard game but if he works hard and does well, it can be a very good life”.

Waiting for the bell

A BILLOWING steam fills the humid air in the corner, where a pensive fighter sits, mentally preparing the countdown to thrust his body up straight.

Then there’s the boisterous rumble that stirs the room as he rises from the stool, only for the sound to soon drown out and that vaporous cloud to clear in a matter of seconds.

Clink. 

“How many sugars do you take?” he asks, as he pours the remains of the kettle into a mug of coffee.

As this reporter takes his two teaspoons, pro boxer Graham McCormack is on a stringent diet of water and a petite box of raisins, as he prepares for his debut match at the National Stadium this weekend.

Competing in the Light Middleweight division, the unranked Raheen native faces an Hungarian novice by the name of Richard Baba, who is eight years his junior.

At this stage, he doesn’t know his opponent’s name, and he certainly doesn’t want to know.

“I am just so focused on myself and what I have to do. I don’t want to know his name. I will ask him his name after I beat him,” he firmly says, back on the same kitchen stool.

Graham, a 30-year-old father-of-four, exudes a confidence that is gracious and humourous. 

“I believe that I have done what I needed to do. I am mentally ready, I am physically ready. I don’t want to focus on other fighters and feel like I have to get ready for them. They have to get ready for me. I am ready. And my coaches have a good game plan for me, you know what I mean?”

This solid disposition is borne out of eight months of vigorous training, diet, mindfulness, and the surrounding of a supportive fans.

He first pitched the idea of turning pro to his girlfriend Lauren, who has supported his career since his amateur epoch, when he was 29kg heavier.

“I told her that this was my plan, and that this is what I want to do. I told her that I believed that I was going to be successful, and all she said was: ‘I believe in you’.”

After devising a fitness and training plan with his friend Noel Bowan, a gym manager at Functional Fitness on Catherine Street, he set out to Ricky Hatton’s hub in the UK, where he got a taste of the professional scene.

“It was no experiment. I knew it was going to happen. I said to myself: ‘I am going to go over here, get in with these guys and see what I am at.”

And it wasn’t long after that when his manager Stephen Sharpe was able to introduce him to renowned coaches Eddie Hyland and Tommy McCormack, who was Conor McGregor’s cutman in the Money Fight against Floyd Mayweather.

After assessing and accepting Graham, Eddie tells the Leader that he liked the red-haired Raheener for his unique ability as an “aggressive southpaw”, an uncommon feat in boxing.

“I am a true believer that if you want something in this life, no matter what it is, you can achieve it. If you think about it strongly enough, if you believe it in yourself that you can do it, nothing can stop you. You could ask me to become a jockey. I have never rode a horse in my life, and I would be the best f***ing jockey in the country in six months. That is the way I am now. I am boxing 15 years. I can fight. I am a good fighter. The professional scene suits me,” he says in a kind of poetic beat.

Former WBO Middleweight champion and Castleconnell man, Andy Lee, wishing Graham well this weekend, says “it is a hard game but if he works hard and does well, it can be a very good life”.

As he finishes his raisins, he recalls his meticulous itinerary of diet and exercise. On Monday and Tuesday, Graham wakes up at 6.30am for a 12km jog, followed by almond milk-soaked oats for breakfast. Two hours later, he is in the gym for conditioning and fitness, and will have a simple basmati rice-chicken dish for lunch. At 2pm or 6pm, he will engage in an hour-and-a-half of boxing, followed by sweet potatoes, rice and fish or chicken for dinner.

Then he is off to Rathcoole in Dublin for team training with Hyland and McCormack from Wednesday to Friday, and is back home again on Saturday, when he will train at the Catherine Street gym. And to finish off a sweat-inducing week, he will go for a light jog on Sunday.

And it seems that Graham’s weakness is not a sly kidney punch, or being caught with an uppercut through the gap of the guard — it’s a Dairy Milk bar.

“I will be honest with you, man, sweets are my downfall. Man, it’s hard not to eat sweets. It’s hard not to eat pizza. I’ll be straight up, I love chocolate!”

And to supplement a healthy body, the pro novice keeps his soul in check with 15-minute meditations and a morning prayer, as soon as the cock crows. Though he is an ardent self-motivator, it is his late grandfather Gus Williams who is his main inspiration ahead of this weekend’s clash against the Hungarian.

Gus died peacefully at Milford Hospice on November 8, a tough experience for the family and the boxing hopeful.

“He would have wanted me to stay focused,” he opens up. “All he wanted was for me to do well in life. And that’s what I want to do, is make him proud.”

And to celebrate his grandfather’s life, he has inscribed Gus’ initials on his first pair of shorts, which will be worn during that exchange of punches with Baba.

“I am a true believer in God and higher powers, and I believe he has put me on this path. And I believe my granddad is with me now, and he will be watching over me on Saturday and every one of my fights that I have. I will always have him on my shorts.”

“He loved the fact that I was boxing. He loved that I had a go at this and that I had focus. He always said to keep hold of the life I love. Even two days before he died, he was in Milford Hospice, he pulled me in close and said: ‘Keep it.’ It was inspiring.”

His proud mother Gretta O’Shea, director of the Unity Gospel Choir, said that “up to the last breath that Gus had, he kept asking about Graham, asking what time was the fight on and if we would be able to watch it on the telly. He was so proud of him.”

Gretta, Graham states proudly, is his number one fan in and outside the ring, and she shares her son’s conviction.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am. He is so focused. I have never come across anybody so focused and dedicated as Graham. He really, really wants this. Your self-belief is the most important thing, and he just has oodles of that.”

And behind a great pugilist is a sea of supporters, namely the O’Shea-McCormack clan. He admits that his intensive schedule is a major sacrifice as he is away from his children Dylan, Ellie, Josh and Kate.

“It’s hard being away from the family, but it’s down to how much you want it. This is a team effort. Lauren is my partner, but she is also my best friend. I am not Graham the boxer. Here, I am Graham the family man. But I wouldn’t be Graham the boxer without Lauren,” he says warmly as she walks into the kitchen.

“And you know what, man? I think family is the most important thing in the world.”

Lauren, a healthcare assistant, agrees that it has been a team effort, adding that he is a “great father figure” to their two-year-old son Dylan, who dabbles in the odd shadow-boxing session with Graham. “We may not have a lot of money, but what we have is something you can’t buy.”

The boxer chirps: “Love and loyalty is something you can’t buy. And my granddad, who just passed, put that in my head.”

The Raheen man has his eyes on the prize — the refulgent green WBO belt to be wrapped around his waist. But he very much lives in the now, he says. So, how does he expect to win his first of many fights?

“I am not going to go on and predict that I am going to knock him out in the first minute. I am going to box. I will get an opportunity to take him out, and I will be taking him out. That’s how I see it going.

“The feeling I have now, it feels like I am floating. I am grateful for this opportunity. I am not letting this go to my head, I am just looking forward to this journey.”

And once again reminded of his inspirational grandfather, Graham says with a clenched fist: “I am fighting for my family, fighting for my city, and showing everyone what I am about.”