IT got to the stage where Conor Quinn was unconvinced he would ever step through the ropes again.
‘The Magnificent’, former Clonard amateur, turned over to professional boxing at the end of 2019 having claimed Irish U22 honours in the vest.
Initially, the West Belfast man journeyed out to Australia and scored two quickfire wins before the offset of Covid-19 prompted a return home.
Singing a managerial contract with Mark Dunlop at the end of 2020, Quinn had ambitions of getting straight down to business, but the pandemic was not the issue as his application for a licence hit a snag, the brain scan showing signs of a previous stroke caused by a hole in his heart.
With the hole closed with surgery last year, it was a case of waiting and waiting until the green light came as he trained away under the guidance of Dee Walsh.
Sharpening the tools and polishing his skills was fine for a time, but as the days, weeks and months passed, Quinn began to question whether his chance to make another walk to the ring would come as his gym-mates enjoyed outing after outing.
“I’ve been up in the gym here working with Dee (Walsh, coach) and the rest of the lads, seeing them get out every other month and doing really well,” said the Belfast flyweight as he prepares for Saturday’s long-awaited return at the Europa Hotel against Nicaragua’s Darwin Martinez (7-3-1).
“I just felt like I was training and nothing coming up. For the first 18 months it maybe wasn’t too bad but then the last few months it was getting harder as I was thinking if there was an end in sight.
“Thankfully, it’s all come together at the right time for this show Mark has put together, live on TG4.
“Not only is it live on TV, but on a free channel and an app where people can watch around the world so the exposure that generates for me and the other lads is unbelievable and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Tá an lá mór tagtha ar @TG4TV— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) September 20, 2022
Eric Donovan this weekend in the fight of his life.
📅 Dé Sathairn / Saturday
🇮🇪 Eric Donovan v Khalil El Hadri 🇫🇷
🏆 Craobh na hEorpa / European Title@ericdonovanbox @MARKHDUNLOP @Irishboxingcompic.twitter.com/js3zuCEJoP
Quinn made his debut one week before Christmas 2019 - a first-round win over Ricky Hunt.
Weeks later he was off to Thailand and the modest surroundings of the Kiatkririn Fitness & Martial Art, where it took him a little longer to silence the locals, cutting through Wisitsak Saiwaew in three rounds.
“I got the two extremes - the first on a great show headlined by Jeff Horn against Michael Zerafa,” he recalled.
“The next one was in a boxing gym where nobody spoke English and they were booing me, getting called out. But I loved it and professional boxing with the smaller gloves. It’s a slower pace but that suits me as I like to hit and hurt people rather than try to score points.”
On Saturday night, he will get to savour that feeling again. He has been a constant presence at the Europa shows over the past year, supporting his stablemates as they get ready for battle, but now he will finally get to have the hands wrapped, gloves on and exhale and butterflies before making the walk to the ring.
It almost feels like starting all over again and in a way, it is for a vastly talented prospect who is eager to make up for lost time.
“Sometimes I forget myself and tell people it’s my pro debut, but it’s a homecoming debut anyway,” he pondered.
“I had a good amateur background and then started off as a pro with two fights in two months, but then came home due to Covid.
“Turned out I had a problem with my medical that stopped me from getting my licence for two years, so I’m glad to be back now can’t wait to get the ball rolling.
“I have a tough fight here but I fully expect to win and put on a brilliant performance.”
One Week To Go pic.twitter.com/JR3ScDa7iP— Mark H Dunlop (@MARKHDUNLOP) September 17, 2022
There may be a little ring rust given it has been well over two-and-a-half years since he last traded leather for real, but that doesn’t dent his self-belief.
Martinez will come to ask questions but Quinn insists he is ready and jumping straight back into six-round action is a statement of intent.
He wants to stay busy, but also go through the gears over the next few months to build some momentum by the time Christmas rolls around and with a number of shows planned by his manager and also other promoters in what looks to be a big few months for boxing in the city, Quinn insists he will be ready if the chance to roll the dice comes.
“We’ll kick on from here and Mark has another couple of dates already pencilled in,” he reports.
“Boxing in Belfast and around Ireland is booming now with a lot of shows scheduled between different promotions. That gives everyone an opportunity as the good thing is that promoters don’t just show their own fighters, but work together.
“Ruadhan (Farrell) and Colm (Murphy) are two fighters managed by Mark and they got on the Conlan show, so it shows how everyone works together.
“I’d take any fight and grab the opportunity with both hands. In my mind, Mark is one of the best managers in the world and what he says I will be happy to go with.”