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Eamon O'Kane eyes new glorious chapter

By David Kelly

Eamon O'Kane was the centre of attention last year, wrapping a Commonwealth Games gold medal around his neck, but this Saturday night he returns to the bottom rung of the ladder - and he's relishing it.

The 29-year-old captained the Northern Ireland boxing team to an unprecedented three golds and two silvers in Delhi, and having enjoyed success as an amateur the Dungiven man is now bidding to carve out a glittering career as a professional.

On Saturday night O'Kane will make his professional debut in Cardiff on the supporting bill to Cavan man Andy Murray's clash with Gavin Rees for the vacant European lightweight title.

And O'Kane is hoping it proves to be the launch pad for a rapid rise up the British rankings.

With that in mind, the laid-back middleweight believes a pointer to his possible success can be found in a memorable clash with recently crowned British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion George Groves in 2007.

Up to that point O'Kane had been seen as the top middleweight in Ulster but an Irish senior title eluded him and he had come up short at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Then came the Commonwealth championships in Liverpool and O'Kane rose to a new level in the final with Groves, before going on to win a European bronze medal a year later.

"Beating Groves in Liverpool was a big win for me, it was a watershed moment. I just kicked on from there and so did Paddy Barnes.

"Paddy did really well and then he went on to qualify for the Olympics.

"He only got his chance to qualify at the World championships because the Irish president, Dominic O'Rourke, had seen him at the Commonwealth championships," said O'Kane as he recalled that special contest with Groves.

"The Groves fight was a real war, he was a very hard puncher and it really was a tough fight.

"I have a lot of respect for him, it was toe to toe which I love and at the end there was only a point between us, 34-33.

"At the end of the first round I was 12-10 up and today you would hardly get that score after three rounds of an amateur contest so that shows you how intense it was, how tough it was.

"It certainly made me a better fighter."

O'Kane's career highlight came with that gold in Delhi, though arguably winning the European medal was a greater achievement, and he went on to compete in the prestigious World Series of Boxing in which there are no headguards and they box over five rounds as well as the bonus of getting paid.

"It's semi-pro really - it did me a lot of good looking ahead to the professional game, I had to get used to being without the headguard and the longer distance and I loved it," he added.

"I want the fights to come thick and fast because I'm 29 and I want to be charging up the rankings.

"I'm a natural fighter, I like to work up close so I think the pros will suit me a lot.

"I'm in great shape and I'm ready to go."

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