A YOUNG West Belfast boxer is facing the fight of his life as he battles to recover from a vicious assault in time for this summer’s Olympics. Lenadoon lad Tommy McCarthy was left hospitalised after he was caught up in a melée at a city centre nightclub. As he recovers from serious neck and head injuries, the 21-year-old’s carefully-planned Olympics qualification schedule has been put on hold.
However, despite missing out on a looming competition in Germany that could help his bid to qualify for the Olympics, the former St Mary’s Grammar School pupil is determined to do all he can to make it to London this summer.
Tommy’s father Tom explained how his son, who boxes for Oliver Plunkett ABC, lay bed-bound for nine full days after the senseless attack.
“Tommy is an amateur boxer and has done very well so far and is hoping to be selected for the Olympics,” he said. “He and some of his friends had sacrificed Christmas to keep in line with their strict straining regime. On the Friday, February 3, Tommy was fighting and he wasn’t due back to the elite performance unit where he trains in Dublin until the following Thursday, so he went out on the Tuesday with his friends, who are all sportsmen. They went to a club in the town and by all accounts they had a great time and the atmosphere was friendly.”
It was when the group tried to leave that a scuffle developed involving Tommy’s group and doormen and Tommy was put to the ground head-first in a potentially lethal rugby-style ‘spear tackle’.
“On top of the severe concussion, Tommy suffered a fractured vertebra and was kept in the Royal for two days,” said Tom. “When he was released he was told he wasn’t allowed audio or visual stimulation so he lay in bed for a week and did nothing, absolutely nothing.
“He isn’t allowed to spar for 28 days and even skipping, which is the bread and butter exercise of boxing, is out for now. He has upper body pain and difficulty raising both his arms at the same time.
“Because of this upset, he has missed a one-day training camp at the Curragh where the Irish Army put them through their paces. He is also going to miss the Chemistry Cup in Germany in March because he will not be able to compete.”
But Tommy is getting the best care possible from top physios from across the country and has not given up hope that he could still make it to the Olympics.
“We are still hoping he can qualify for the Olympics but it’s really a race against the clock,” said Tom. “He would have been in with a better than reasonable chance but this neck injury has really put the brakes on it.”
Following medical advice to the letter, Tommy is not taking part in any major physical activity until the 28 days are up, but he is not giving up on his dream of fighting for Ireland at the Olympics and he has his family and friends firmly behind him.
“The consultant told me that thanks to Tommy’s fine physical shape, we weren’t looking at paralysis or something more severe, so we have to be grateful for that,” said Tom. “He is coping with what has happened. All he has said is ‘Daddy why would that man do this to me?’ We are frustrated this happened in a bar where people are paid to behave responsibly. I think we could all swallow it better if Tommy was a troublemaker, but he is a great kid. I love being his dad, he never gave me a day’s trouble in his life and he was never in trouble in school or on the pitch when he played Gaelic sports.
“But it has happened and we are now focusing on the future, we are all hoping that Tommy can battle back and qualify for the Olympics.”
A PSNI spokesman confirmed that they are investigating the incident and appealed for witnesses.
“Police in Strandtown are appealing for information after a report of an assault in Belfast on Wednesday, 8 February,” he said.
“At approximately 1.30am, it was reported that a 21-year-old man was assaulted at licensed premises. The male received an injury to his head. He was taken to hospital where he was treated for his injuries.
“Anyone who has any information is asked to contact Police at Strandtown on 0845 600 8000. Or, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details, they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.”