“Are you a champ?” asked the little boy of Niall Kennedy – Gorey’s own professional heavyweight. The little boy was mesmerised by Niall’s IBA Americas’ belt, which he defended in June 9 in New Hampshire (a draw against American boxer Joel Caudle).
Niall, ever the gent, gave the belt to the young lad to hold and stood in for photographs.
A new dad to 11-month old MJ, Niall (also known as Boom Boom Baz!), a member of the Garda Síochána based in Wicklow, is beyond proud of Gorey and Willow Park. “I’m always going to live in Gorey – there’s a very big community spirit, especially in the sports clubs,” said Niall, who’s also the proud heavyweight champion of New England, which he won in September 2017.
A former Wexford minor and U21 county footballer, he’s been boxing since he was seven and boxed with Gorey Boxing Club until he was 16. His best friend’s death affected him deeply and he stepped away from boxing for a few years. “Darren O’Toole brought me back to boxing to get my head straight – and I went on to win an Irish intermediate title in 2007.” He also won the World Police and Fire title in Australia in 2008 and boxed with the Irish amateur team from 2010 to 2015. Turning professional in 2015, at 34, he’s just the right age with heavyweights reaching their prime in their mid- to late-30s.
So what is it about boxing?
“It’s all I’ve ever known – I loved football, soccer and hurling, but I always went back to boxing. I was naturally good at it and my friends were involved in it. It gives people discipline and confidence. Gorey Boxing Club is like a second family to me.”
Boxing has also been good for Niall in terms of his mental health. “I have bipolar disorder and on medication for it, so it’s something I have to manage every day. Now I talk about being bipolar and mental health and hope that I’ve helped a few people. I do a lot of school and community talks with the Guards in Wicklow and I can relate to young lads. No one knows what anyone else is going through so we have to be kind and decent to each other.”
Life’s like that
In the meantime, Niall works full-time, and he and wife Niamh enjoy the trials of parenting an active 11-month-old. “MJ was born premature at 28 weeks,” but he’s well up and running now and the apple of his dad’s eye! Niamh is fully supportive of Niall’s boxing and even made sure he stayed training for the New England fight last year.
Training in Dublin with trainer Paschal Collins*, working full time, and being a hands-on dad takes a lot of effort, especially when other professional heavyweights are full-time boxers. “The difference is in the rest periods – pro boxers get rest periods and have a full team behind them, including a chef. I train, do ten-hour tours at work, and mind MJ when Niamh is at work. I love the Guards and am involved in the Way Project in Wicklow – it’s a Garda Youth Diversion Project trying to help young people.”
That’s the measure of the man, really. There’s a time to train, a time to box, a time to be a husband and dad, a time to help others and, always, time to give Gorey and Willow Park a shout out!
Is he a champ? Absolutely!
*Niall trains in Celtic Warriors Gym, in Dublin, and is promoted by Ken Casey of Murphy’s Boxing
Profile sponsored by Whizzy Internet, sponsor of Niall Kennedy
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn