O’Toole relishing professional boxing

Galway boxer Thomas O'Toole with his trainer Pawel Popko at the Celtic Eagles Boxing Club gym. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Galway boxer Thomas O'Toole with his trainer Pawel Popko at the Celtic Eagles Boxing Club gym. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

“I'm really satisfied, the biggest thing when you turn pro in boxing is trying to keep busy,” Thomas O’Toole says about winning his first four professional fights since September.

Gaining experience and further knowledge is critical according to the popular Connemara boxer. “That is the most important thing - to learn your trade, to keep busy with it,” he adds. “I was happy to get the four fights in and hopefully will have another two to make it six in a year. That would be very good for me, I'm just hoping to keep it going.”

Kieran Molloy, Adam Hession, and Gabriel Dossen are also showing real signs that boxing in Galway is thriving which is a source of optimism for O’Toole. “I think, before you had the four of us, it wouldn't have been half as big,” he says.

“We are doing very well. Gabriel winning the European medal, Kieran, I know his fight fell through, but he was over at Madison Square Garden. That is huge. Adam Hession captained Team Ireland, Galway boxing is booming which is really good to see.

“I would see them around Galway, we would have a chat. I sparred with Gabriel a few times, but not so much recently.”

O’Toole, coached by the highly regarded Pawel Popko, had a decision to make whether to continue boxing as an amateur or to turn pro. How did that unfold? “My goal was always to win an Irish title, I did that with the intermediate, then I won the elite title,” he says. “I could have stuck around to train with the high performance to do that the whole time. First of all there would have been no funding with it really, unless you were winning medals - it would be hard to survive and I was still doing my college.

“For me I wanted to get college out of the way. When I was finishing my college it was the year they had the Olympics. I could have waited around another four years or I could go pro. The thought of being a professional excited me a bit. That was where my decision came from. I talked to my coach a bit, we said we would give it a go to see how it goes.”

To develop O’Toole wanted to make an impact in the USA. “ I had a good amateur pedigree,” he says. “I had reached out to a few people to let them know I was interested. I had a few people that were interested in me. Initially I wanted to go to America.”

O’Toole was impressed with Ryan Roach’s approach. “I talked to one or two from Ireland, but that was just to see what they would say,” he adds. “I always wanted to go to America. I had known of Ryan Roach. I had thought about Chicago, but there isn't a big boxing scene there. Boston was really the option - Boston or New York. I started talking to Ryan, we hit off straight away so I thought it was the right decision to go with him.”

The fact that the totemic boxer from Ros Muc, Seán Mannion, is also in O’Toole’s corner adds another sub plot. Mannion, who famously fought Mike McCallum in 1984 for the WBA world title, has provided significant assistance.

“Big time,” O’Toole replies. “I remember my debut, my coach wasn't able to travel out because of Covid restrictions. It was great that Seán was able to step in, that was my professional debut.

“It was a whole different thing for me. To have him there, to help me through it, that was great. I have him with me every fight now. He is in the corner with me at the moment so it is great. Whatever happens to always have him with me it is great. To have his knowledge, one of my own people - it is great.”

Commencing that journey in Moseley's On the Charles, Dedham in September must have been daunting? “I was mostly just excited for it,” O’Toole responds. “One thing I learned, in professional boxing the difference is that professional boxing is a business. I was looking forward to it, I know I have to build up gradually.

“I did a really good training camp leading up to my debut so I was just excited for it. There was a bit of anxiety because I hadn't fought for two years due to Covid. I had a lot of inactivity going into that fight. Even though I knew I was probably going to be OK, I had that feeling that I hadn't boxed in a while so you feel a little nervous. A mixture of excitement and nerves.”

The second triumph of O’Toole’s career in November was a notable knockout win that earned admirers and attention, including favourable comments from promoter Eddie Hearn. “That was a huge one, especially in just my second fight,” O’Toole says. “To get on a big platform like that - to deliver the way I did was very important. It wasn't about getting there winning, it was about doing something memorable so people will remember you.

“That is what I did and I was very happy with it. I was nearly amazed with myself for doing it. That is the way I have always thought about it. When I get on a big platform like that I'm able to deliver. When the nerves are there and the pressure is there - that is when I fight at my best. Hopefully I will get a platform like that soon and I will be able to show people more of it.”

Getting opportunities on high profile cards and on the DAZN channel is the objective, but O’Toole is remaining firmly focused. “Right now I'm still just building with my team and my manager,” he says.

“That is the goal - to get the right deals and stuff like that, but to get on the big platforms. It is all a business, it all has to make sense. Obviously Eddie Hearn is one the best in the world, he is the one everyone wants to be with, but it can be hard.

“It is not as easy as just being good and you get signed up. We are doing it slowly, but that is the plan, to get on the big platforms - DAZN is probably the biggest one there is now.”

It is just over a decade since O’Toole climbed through the ropes. “I know I was 12 or 13 when I really started,” he recalls. “I was 17 when it really took off - when the training got proper. After I finished secondary school I came into college and I was full-time at it. From the age of 16 or 17 onwards was when I was full-time at it. Before that I was doing as much as I could.”

Colman Ó Flatharta’s work hasn’t been forgotten by O’Toole. “He was great God rest him,” he says. “Even in the winter he had the club open twice a week. I remember when I started a huge amount of children started, I don't know what it was.

“You nearly had 100 around my own age, the age above, and age below coming in to the gym that year. Most of them didn't keep up with it, to be honest I think I am one of the only ones left out of that group.

“It is amazing how we were all able to go there for the winter to try something that way. Colman was great that way, he gave people an opportunity, he tried to help out in the community.”

Prior to starting his third level studies in GMIT O’Toole began training with Pawel Popka. “I always had the goal when I moved into town - I ended up joining a different club and I'm with the coach I'm with know – Pawel,” O’Toole explains.

“He is great and for me he is the best coach in Ireland - just his knowledge of the game and stuff. I knew I was coming into a good gym and that I had a really good opportunity. I knew to keep my head down, to work hard at it.

“I started training with Pawel the year before I started college. I was driving in from Connemara twice a week to do training with him. I knew if I kept my head down and worked hard I could achieve what I wanted to achieve.”

O’Toole is expected to have another fight at the end of next month and is relishing the schedule. “I had camps back to back,” he says. “Since I have made my debut back in September I've always had a list of dates set out in front of me. I will have a fight - I will maybe take a week off after a fight to let the body recover. Then you are back into a camp again - you know when a fight is - it could be six, eight, 10 weeks, whatever it is.

“You have the plan made out. Maybe it wouldn't be too intense at the start. Ahead of my last fight, for the first few weeks it was more S & C (strength and conditioning ), that kind of work. Then we went more into boxing work. I'm not training without a fight date. There is always a plan, the training is always fit for purpose.”

It is going well so far. O’Toole’s budding career is worth monitoring.


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