Not so long ago, Darren Mangan got a phonecall from his mother, who had found one of his old copybooks.
He’s not certain but thinks he was about six years of age when he would’ve scribbled in it at his national school, Snugboro in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
One of the questions was: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ A thing brings a smile to Mangan’s face now some 14 years later was his answer: Professional boxer.
This Friday night at the Brooklyn Masonic Center in New York City, Mangan will get that opportunity when he fights Kashif Muhammad-Brown, a fellow debutant, at welter-weight.
Muhammad-Brown, from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was in the Junior Olympics National Championships in June and made the semi-finals.
This week, the pair came across each other at the New York State Athletic Commission as they were completing the necessary medicals to receive the documentation required to step into the ring on Friday.
“I didn’t know it was him at the time but we were in the same waiting room when the receptionist called my name,” Mangan said.
“I noticed that he started looking at the floor, twiddling his thumbs and wouldn’t look at me in the eye.
“It made sense - it being him - when I thought about it afterwards. He would’ve needed the same tests done as me as a first time pro.
“If I’d known at the time I’d certainly have eye-balled him to psyche him out a little.”
Mangan’s mother, Annie Sarah Rodgers, is a native of Tory Island and father is Ted, from Belmullet, Co Mayo - a town that is jovially referred to as the last stop before America.
Mangan was a useful soccer player growing up in Mayo, playing as a 10-year-old on Castlebar Celtic’s U-14 side.
It was here that his father’s friend and coach Denis Ahern once asked whether the youngster had ever thought about boxing.
“I loved boxing,” Mangan added. “ A lot of my cousins would’ve been involved in the sport and I had always watched it. So I gave it a go.
“Six weeks later I was winning a fight in the Ard na Rí in Ballina against a lad who was 13.
“That was me hooked. I never went back playing soccer from that day till this.”
The family moved to Letterkenny when their son was 12 and now reside in Killyclug.
Mangan was instantly immersed in training and, even with nothing concrete on the horizon in his early teens, had the attitude of a professional.
He remembers spending his Friday nights training with John Elliott at Letterkenny Boxing Club, while all his pals were going to the cinema.
Last week, his mother recalled her son overcoming his yearning and refusing so much as a slice of pizza.
Kevin Doherty was another man who greatly aided Mangan’s early development before work commitments with the Defence Forces curtailed his involvement.
“Yeah, there were plenty of sacrifices but they were sacrifices that I chose to make myself,” Mangan said.
“Kevin’s son Matthew and I are great friends and we used to always want to box. I remember being in the gym with John Elliott maybe six nights a week.
“I mightn’t have a fight or a competition coming up but that’s what I wanted to do. I’m delighted John will be coming to New York with my parents and Peter O’Donnell (of the Donegal Boxing Board).”
Mangan was a four-time Ulster Junior Champion and reached the National Junior Cadet final in 2008, losing only to Ryan Walsh, the son of Billy, current Head Coach of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, 14-12 on a countback following a 6-6 tie.
What was remarkable about the fight, one in which the competitors were level four times in the final round alone, was that Mangan fought with a broken hand.
To realise his professional dream, Mangan wanted to be self-sufficient going to America.
He spent 18 months in Sundsvall, a city in the mountains in north Sweden.
He worked as a steel fixer with his father, whilst boxing locally with the likes of light heavy-weight Kennedy Katende, the Swede who qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing alongside Ireland’s Kenny Egan.
“My dad has always been my biggest role model,” Mangan said.
“Going to Sweden gave me the chance to spend some time with him and earn some money.
“The plan was initially just to stay a couple of months and get enough together to buy a car at home, throw in the gym bag and scoot to training. But I stuck at it a while longer.”
Having made the decision to go to the United States, Mangan boxed his way around some of the toughest gyms in New York.
He is now aligned to world-renowned trainer Colin Morgan, a Guyana native, who trains top Cuban boxers, Mike Perez, Alexei Collado and Luis Garci and has produced seven world champions from scratch.
“Colin is unbelievable,” Mangan added. “When I first met him I showed him some of my videos and he gave me some advice.
“I was thinking, ‘I’ve been in over 100 amateur fights and now he wants to teach me how to throw a jab?’
“One thing I realise is that you never know it all. I listened to Colin and I almost learned to box again. He held his hand out and told me to imagine he was holding a piece of clay.
“‘That’s all it is,’ he said. ‘But if we work on this, we can mould it into something good; something really good. That’s what we’re going to do with you.’”
Over the weekend, Mangan watched the respective plights of the two Gaelic football teams closest to his heart.
“I have always fought the corner of Mayo and it was sad to see them lose,” he added.
“But Donegal were brilliant. I really believe that so much of sport is mental and Jim McGuinness is just fascinating.
“I’m delighted for the people of Donegal. They’ve been so good to me and have a final to look forward to.”
Four nights before his debut, Mangan admitted he’s having bother sleeping. Not in an anxious way, though.
“I was just lying in bed thinking about the fight and I’m excited,” Mangan said. “I just cannot wait. This is what I have spent my life preparing for. I’m ready as I’m ever going to be.”