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Donnelly's redemption story ends at summit in Rio

By David Kelly

Published 03/12/2015

Olympic dream: Steven Donnelly is off to Rio
Olympic dream: Steven Donnelly is off to Rio

IF Sylvester Stallone has finally sounded the final bell on the Rocky chronicles, then it would come as no surprise if he made a Hollywood blockbuster out of the career of Steven Donnelly.

Up until last weekend, Donnelly's summer was about topping up his tan but that all changed and suddenly new life was breathed into his Olympic dream. The confirmation came yesterday that Donnelly had been handed a place at the Rio Games alongside Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward.

The 27-year-old Ballymena man had just come up short in qualification for the Olympics - largely down to a visa issue which prevented competing at one of his bouts - during the World Series of Boxing campaign, out of which Conlan and Barnes qualified for Rio.

But, due to the now convoluted process of Olympic qualification a long shot for Donnelly to make it opened up when the Russian national championships were held at the weekend. Essentially, Andrey Zamkovoy's defeat of Radzhab Butzev, who edged out Donnelly for welterweight qualification through the WSB, opened the door for the Irish champion.

The Russians will be represented in Rio by Zamkovoy due to the result at the weekend and so Donnelly was elevated to Olympic qualifier. Now he has to start whipping himself into shape as Donnelly had lost some desire, believing his Olympic dream was over.

When he dons his Olympic suit next summer it will be a culmination of a journey which at one point saw Donnelly in a very dark place, to the point of considering taking his own life. His spiral out of control followed an early defeat at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and it seemed his undoubted potential would never be realised.

But, 18 months out from the 2014 Commonwealth Games, a chat with All Saints ABC coach Gerry Hamill led to Donnelly returning to the Ballymena gym, winning his first Irish title and then bronze in Glasgow.

Now the man with Redemption tattooed down his arm is Rio-bound.

"It feels amazing now that it's all confirmed, it's what dreams are made of. Every amateur's dream is to go to Olympics, it's the biggest stage for sport - I can't wait!" said Donnelly, who watched as the drama in Russia unfolded.

"I was on my own in the living room with the iPad on and the TV on mute.

"After the final bell I said 'he's done enough to win this' - and, when he won and jumped in the air, I let a roar out of me.

"I've been out of action for a while, but it will all come back with good sparring.

"Once I'm in proper good shape, I'm a dangerous fighter with a big heart."

IABA President Pat Ryan added: "We are absolutely delighted for Steven and for his club.

"Steven performed magnificently last season and he won his place on merit."

Belfast Telegraph

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