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The new sporting life of Brian

Boxing champion Magee making sure our top stars are fighting fit

By Declan Bogue

It's approaching three and a half years since Brian Magee suffered a second-round knockout at the hands of Mikkel Kessler, but as the former World Champion says himself, "I haven't officially retired".

Don't expect him to slip between the ropes any time soon though. He is one of a rare number of boxers who got out in time and has forged a successful career with the Magee Health and Fitness gym, off Belfast's Blackstaff Way.

Such is the reputation he has built that a number of sports stars are currently benefiting from his years of experience in strength and conditioning.

"I am so busy with everything else, life after boxing is tough to adjust to but I can't see myself getting into the ring again," said the 41-year-old, whose reputation as a trainer is growing with the promising Tommy McCarthy under his wing.

He admits that he might be getting out when the going is good.

"There are so many boxers and when they leave boxing they have nothing," he stated.

"Boxing is so hard and you put everything into it and it's hard to get something out of it, to walk away with something.

"It's in your blood and you want to do it. As time rolls on and on, it gets further away, but it doesn't stop you wanting to do it."

January will mark the first two years of his gym, which has become a hitching post for some of the biggest names in local sport.

In tennis, the Romanian-born Ireland player Karola Bejenaru comes for strength and conditioning work, as does Lydia Kelly.

The world senior ladies' handball champion Aisling Reilly is a frequent visitor, and the Down senior hurling team have done some pre-season work. Even the MMA fighter and former Mr Jordan, Alex Reid, comes in to shed a bit of sweat.

At the start of Warren Feeney's reign as Linfield manager, he brought the team to Magee. He explained: "I know Brian from my time with Northern Ireland. For what we wanted to achieve in pre-season, I brought him up. It was something different from football. The boys enjoyed the bit of boxing and a wee bit of conditioning.

"Sometimes pre-season is a lot of hard work and you want them with the ball. But they should see the other side of it and when I brought Brian up, the boys enjoyed it."

Although the season has almost reached the halfway mark, new manager David Healy still brings the Blues up for the occasional session.

Feeney, who left Windsor Park to become assistant boss at Newport, praised Magee's ability in delivering motivational talks, something he learned from respected Sports Psychologist Mark Elliott.

Magee explained: "He taught me things like how to manage your time and how to put things into perspective.

"I have come on a lot since then, but he taught me about goal-setting, about keeping things simple and projecting my energy, rather than wasting it.

"You spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things that you don't need to.

"You have to take all the rubbish away, all the media attention, the press saying negative things. Nothing of that means anything, it is just opinion and it can't affect your future.

"The only way they can affect it is if you let it affect you. So it's stuff like that, when you sit down afterwards and think about it, it dawns on you. I put it into practice myself in situations and I can pass it on to players."

A few weeks ago, the joint Antrim football managers Frankie Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams brought Magee into the backroom of the Saffron footballers, who have been doing their pre-season strength and conditioning work under Magee's supervision.

Magee admits he is still getting used to the team dynamic. He said: "Gearoid and Big Frank have their hands full because every player is an individual. That's the difference between handling a boxer and a team.

"There is a really good vibe in the Antrim camp at the minute, the players are coming together and they would all have some sort of rivalry with each other because they play for different clubs.

"You can definitely see the difference in their training in terms of what they have been doing in the gym. They have had a couple of challenge matches already and you can see the difference."

While he was reluctant to single out any players in particular as being excellent trainers, Magee did let it slip that Ballymena's Sean McVeigh, and St Gall's goalkeeper Chris Kerr - himself a personal trainer by profession - have lost half a stone each over the past month.

The sessions were met with the approval of Antrim midfielder Niall McKeever, who had some previous experience of boxing training while playing Australian Rules for Brisbane Lions.

McKeever said: "It's something different, we have been down there a few times now and we enjoy it.

"Boxing is something to keep you off your legs. It's exhausting and it is great. I have had experience of it before when I was away and a lot of the boys have taken to it."

The current trend of finding different methods of pre-season training has become extremely popular among players, for obvious reasons, but Magee maintains that indoor work can compliment a team's pitch sessions.

"There is no doubt about it, you need to do your outside running sessions, but your gym sessions will transfer onto the pitch," explained Magee.

"You are not going to fall behind by doing gym sessions, it's all focused on what you do outside with the mechanics of running and the muscles you are going to use for running, you are building them up nice and strong."

As Antrim gear up for their upcoming McKenna Cup bid before embarking on a National League campaign, Magee will remain as a backroom team member.

"As long as they want me, I will be here. But as of this moment, I will be here for the full season," he concluded.

Belfast Telegraph


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