Quigley’s desire meant he was always champion material

Alan Foley

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Alan Foley

Quigley’s desire meant he was always champion material
Jason Quigley wasn’t far into his teens when he arrived back to the Finn Valley Centre from Dublin one Sunday evening having been defeated in the U-14 final at the National Stadium.

Jason Quigley wasn’t far into his teens when he arrived back to the Finn Valley Centre from Dublin one Sunday evening having been defeated in the U-14 final at the National Stadium.

Patsy McGonagle was there to console the youngster, who, as tears rolled down face, couldn’t fathom how he had lost to Davy Joe Joyce from St Michael’s, Athy.

Quigley’s aunt Mary, who was also in the car with Jason’s dad and coach, Conor, and uncle Billy, offered support by advising the 13-year-old, who had jut suffered his first real loss “not to worry about those boys in Dublin” and maybe to “forget about boxing altogether.”

McGonagle jovially recalled this week how “a bit of a row” ensued. Thankfully, on Monday, as Quigley sat with the gold medal around his neck at his homecoming after winning the European Championships in the middleweight division, it was a moment all could look back at with smiles.

Quigley, having won national titles between the ages of 11 and 13, failed to win another until he turned 16. But after his loss to Joyce, the sense of desire was maintained. He possessed an unquenchable focus.

“I was beat,” he says of 2003. “I didn’t know what was going on as I was winning every other year. Dad told me to forget about it for a couple of weeks but the only thing I could think about was Joyce beating me.

“It was a real setback for us as it had never happened before. But I was never going to quit. I went straight home, straight to bed and got up first thing the next morning and went for a run.

“Looking back now, losing that fight was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Before the National U-23 championships last October, Quigley and his father made their way to the small town of Eargoed in south Wales.

There, WBO light-heavyweight champion Nathan Clevery would provide a more than competitive sparring partner.

Quigley had first met Clevery in his role sparring with undefeated former world super-middle and light-heavy weight champion Joe Calzaghe.

“Jason had lost three national titles in a row,” Conor Quigley explains of the reason to try to the alternative approach. “But he comes back after losing and asks ‘what’s our next move?’. That tells you everything you need to know about Jason Quigley.”

When the Quigleys first went to Wales, Cleverly wasn’t even mentioned. It was just an opportunity to spar with different people and pick up tips from different coaches.

Quigley and Cleverly were soon sparring in the middle of the ring. Both their fathers, Conor and Vince, had assured the other they didn’t want to see anyone knocked out over the six scheduled rounds.

“It was like letting two dogs off a lead,” Conor Quigley recalls of the session. “Nathan was taking lumps out of Jason. But after a minute or two, Jason steadied and by the fifth round I could see him smile.

“Afterwards, I asked him why he was laughing and Jason explained that he wasn’t meaning to laugh. He was just smiling because he was there sparring with a world champion and able to take everything he had.”

Quigley won the National U-23 championships comfortably in Dublin. Prior to the European U-23s, there was another trip to Wales. The plan from Vince Cleverly, this time, was 10 rounds - something against the natural grain of an amateur boxer.

“Jason won the first eight rounds but took a bit of a tanking in the ninth,” Conor Quigley says. “But Jason went back out in the 10th and absolutely boxed the head off him.

“When we were leaving they weren’t too friendly. I said to Jason that we’d not be welcome back! But that’s the kind of Jason, he treats sparring like a fight.”

Again, the preparation in Wales ticked the right boxes. Quigley produced a 17-11 victory over Germany’s Dennis Radovan in Kaliningra, Russia, and having won a European Junior title previously in 2009, getting the better of Ajerbaijan opponent Emil Ahmadov 6-1, it meant he was Ireland’s first ever double European champion.

Next up was the seniors and the chance to overturn those three successive losses, two in finals against Darren O’Neill - in 2010 and 2011. There was also the quarter-final loss to William McLaughlin from Buncrana, whilst Quigley was dipping his toe into the welterweight division, last year.

A third Welsh visit bred confidence in Quigley. He was crowned national senior champion for the first time in February thanks to victory over O’Neill in the last eight and then Roy Sheahan in the final.

Quigley then won a gold at the Usti nad Labem Grand Prix, having beaten Serbia’s Alexsandr Drenovak, who was just a round shy of reaching the quarter-finals at the Excel in London at last summer’s Olympics.

Final preparations for Belarus were put in place in Kiev, where the Irish team sparred with the local Ukrainians, the Azerbaijanis and Armenians.

The Palace of Sport in Minsk would host the European Championships, Quigley’s first ever international competition as a senior boxer. He was part of a 10-strong Irish team.

As an unseeded entrant, Quigley’s path was always going to be a minefield. He opened and advanced in the middleweight division, with a unanimous win, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28, over Austrian Arbi Chakaev.

“I was overly eager on the first day,” Quigley says. “I was trying to take your man out, trying too hard to catch the judges’ eyes. If I’d stuck to the game plan I could have beaten him a lot easier.”

A quarter-final victory over Stefan Haertel, the No 4 seed, guaranteed the debutant a medal. Overcoming the German, who outboxed O’Neill in London last summer, proved Quigley’s quality as he came through 30-27, 30-27, 29-28.

“I’ve never won a bronze medal,” Quigley adds. “As soon as I get to bronze stages, I have always got to a final and I want to keep that going as long as I can. When you have it, you have it. A lot of people would settle for a bronze medal. For me, second sucks.”

Going into the semi-final, Quigley was certainly second favourite. However, he stole the show with a stunning victory over current world champion Ievgen Khytrov of the Ukraine.

Ivegen was lashing in some big shots throughout but Quigley stood up to the test.

“I was in the Ukraine training camp with him,” Quigley says of Ivegen. “I was watching him and was keeping an eye on what he has done. I was looking at him sparring and saying to myself: ‘I can beat this fella’.

“I was watching everything he was doing, the way he was boxing and trying to figure out what sort of game plan I’d need if I did draw him. I might never have met him - but I did.

“Being in with a world champion is a different thing. It’s not the fact of who he is, but it’s that he’s a world champion. As soon as a man has that you know you’re up against it from day one. I just got in and just tried my best and stuck to the plan.”

The world champion remonstrated about the verdict, but the Ecuadorian, German and French judges thought differently. They scored it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 to the Irish Elite champion.

“To beat the world champion is amazing in any sport,” Conor Quigley says of his son’s semi-final win. “But to beat the world champion at senior level, well, this man here from Ard McCool did that.”

Quigley had reason to believe. Throughout the week he had kept in touch with his father, family and friends from his hotel room in Minsk on Facebook and Skype. It filled long hours.

“When I’m lying out there on my own, I get lonely, I get pissed off, but when you can get onto people from home, my mother and father, my mates and have the craic. It just eases things,” he says.

Throughout the week, Quigley’s father had been providing tactical advice, giving encouragement and passing on clips of forthcoming opponents.

“As soon as I got a draw and knew who I was coming up against, dad was on right away,” Jason Quigley says. “He was on YouTube or whatever websites he could be on to try and get a game plan going.

“We would be on the phone for a half-an-hour to an hour talking about how we’d beat this fella and what we’d do to him.

“The two of us went over everything and I’d go then to coaches Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia and they had the same plan each time. That is why dad is a part of the High Performance Unit.”

Sporting two shiners, Quigley would look into the eyes of Bogdan Juratoni before Saturday’s final.

The Romanian, a previous European bronze medallist and the No 2 seed, would have fancied his chances but Quigley dictated the opening round with all three judges agreeing.

That planted the seed in the judges’ heads, although Quigley was to tire. Going into the fight he contested nine rounds to Juratoni’s five.

There were shouts of “wake up” from the Irish corner. Perhaps sensing the championship was slipping through his fingers, Quigley rallied. He claimed a 30-27, 28-29, 29-28 win.

The winner was from the red corner.

“It’s indescribable,” Quigley recalls of the moment he heard the official announcement.

“I can’t describe what it is. It’s a feeling that you have in you for so long. It’s a relief, pride and everything comes into it. It’s one big feeling wrapped into one.”

Jason Quigley’s emotions on boxing have turned full circle since he sobbed in the back of the car at Finn Valley Centre nine years ago.

He returned to the same place on Monday night as a hero to his people. How glad he must be that he refused to turn his back on the sport he loves all them years ago.