Healy hoping to kick his way to more glory
Some of the customers in Caddens’ SuperValu who get their meat from apprentice butcher Ciaran Healy may not realise they are being served by an All-Ireland kickboxing champion. But that’s exactly what this cheerful and charming young man is – and not just once, but three times over! writes Ealma Purcell.
At just 20 years old, Ciaran Healy from Oldcastle has achieved his childhood dreams, winning two junior All-Ireland Championships, and last month he added the Senior All-Ireland Welterweight title by beating Ben Patterson in Derry.
So what is kickboxing, and what makes someone want to become a kickboxer?
Kickboxing is defined as a group of stand-up combat sports and a form of boxing based on kicking and punching. The combat takes place in a boxing ring, normally with boxing gloves, mouthguards, shorts, and bare feet to favour the use of kicks. It is practiced for self-defence, general fitness, or for competition.
Why would someone want to do that?
“I blame it all on Conor McGregor!” says Healy.
“MMA was huge back when I was young, and McGregor was my hero. He still is! It was all I wanted to do. So when O’Neill Fitness opened up in Oldcastle when I was 12, I was the first person in the door. I loved it from the beginning.
"I trained hard and eventually had my first live fight. Yes it hurt! And yes, it makes you think about what you’re doing, but I still loved it, and I kept going.
"The more you do it and the more you win, the more you are drawn into it. Your fights are matched according to your weight so you’ll be evenly matched in that regard. I always knew it was there for the taking, for whoever wanted it the most. And I knew that was me!”
Already a talented GAA and soccer player, Healy was totally won over by the kickboxing. His small stature belies his fighting spirit, with the result that at minor level in GAA, when being tackled by bigger players, the Oldcastle mammies on the sidelines would be screaming advice to the opposition players to think about what they were getting into, and to leave Ciaran alone!
Healy has an impressive record in fights over this career, with 16 victories out of his 18 fights. His two juvenile All-Ireland titles were something else, but his recent Senior victory has moved him to a whole new level.
“Ah yeah, it feels good!” he says, making the understatement of the century. “It makes all the hard work worth it.
Healy trains six days a week, at least three with Sean in O’Neill Fitness, and he does his own work running and sprinting in Gilson Park, or working out in the gym on other days. He enjoys helping out at the gym training the younger kids now:
“It’s crazy! They don’t fight, just train, but it’s such a great sport for feeling good and getting into shape and the kids have great craic.”
That’s alongside his full-time job as a butcher in Cadden's.
“I’m six years learning to be a butcher now, and I love it. You have the banter with all the customers everyday. Everyone who knows me knows about the kickboxing and they’ll be at me whenever they see a black-eye or whatever!”
As one of the famous Healys of Newcastle, Ciaran may have been under pressure as a youngster to take up Irish Dancing.
“No, not for me” he says, laughing!
With older brothers and sister CJ, Lee and Emma Rose all blazing trails before him, he had a lot to live up to.
CJ and Lee are star players with Oldcastle GAA, and outshining even them, Emma Rose was a champion Irish Dancer in her early years, and is the proud holder of a Meath Ladies SFC medal with Oldcastle Ladies in 2017.
So did CJ and Lee ever beat up Ciaran?
“Ah, not in a long time! I’m the big noise in the house now” he says, laughing. “I’m still afraid of Emma Rose though!”
Sean O’Neill is the driving force behind Ciaran these past eight years.
He opened his kickboxing gym in Oldcastle in 2014. From Waterford, he is an Irish, Five Nations and World Title holder at Senior Middleweight grade. He gave up competitive fights himself at the age of 29, and now pours all his energy into the gym and his pupils. He couldn’t be prouder of Ciaran.
“Ciaran was one of the first pupils in the door when I started here. I knew from the start he was a good lad. One of his first fights was a light contact bout in Galway, he wasn’t long at it, and even though he was tiny he impressed everyone there. He just had it. His first Irish title was won in Oldcastle in 2017, in an event we organised, with great local support, that was an amazing night," said O'Neill.
“Ciaran is easy to work with, and he listens and learns. He always busts his ass and works hard. He has the talent and he puts in the hard work, but you know, one or the other won’t get you anywhere. You need both, and he has both, and I’d even say it’s the fact that he puts in so much hard work that has him as All Ireland Champion.
"It wasn’t an easy match, he was away from home, up the North, and against an experienced opponent. But he put everything into it, and in the end Ciaran won comfortably, he outclassed the other guy and totally deserves the title.
“Ciaran is like a hero to all the younger kids in the gym here, and rightly so. He helps me coach them now, including my own little lad, and they all love him. They come in early to help out because Ciaran will be here, and he’s just a great role model for them. My own wee man won’t listen to me at all, it has to come from Ciaran for him to obey!”
So what’s next for Ciaran? Sean hopes to see him defend his Irish title at some stage, with the possibility of Five Nations (Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) or European fights also.
He has many competitive years ahead of him, and is on the Irish Kickboxing team, going up to Dublin to train regularly.
Excitingly, there are moves afoot to see Kickboxing recognised as an Olympic Sport. It won’t be in place for Paris 2024, but with a bit of luck it certainly could be recognised for Los Angeles 2028! No guarantees yet, but Oldcastle will surely have a lot to shout about in six years if it does!
Ciaran’s sister Emma Rose agrees with that.
“Oh God, if kickboxing becomes an Olympic sport the town will go mad altogether! Olympics are definitely on Ciaran’s To-Do list, but whatever he does, kickboxing will always be in his life. I’ve never seen anyone so dedicated to something,” said Emma Rose.
Emma doesn’t like watching Ciaran’s fights however.
“It’s so hard to see the battering they get. Every time I watch him fight my heart is pounding and my legs go weak, and I’m crying. Thank god he’s never been badly hurt. He did get his first really bad black-eye in his Senior title match but he just laughed it off, he enjoyed it, like a proper little celebrity! Everyone was coming up looking to get photos with him and he loved it! It’s such a small town and everyone knows Ciaran!
“It was amazing to see him become Senior Irish Champion because he so deserves it. He puts everything into kickboxing, pure dedication. He doesn’t realise how good he is, and he’s so humble.
"There was a fight years ago that he had to lose 12 kilos for it - 12 kilos is a lot! And he did it in a few weeks, he was out running the Stoney Road wrapped in bin bags, sleeping under tonnes of blankets every night, and living on turkey burgers and broccoli! He’s unreal, never complains and just gets on with it!
"We love Irish dancing in the family, and our Nana in her 80s is still dancing away! But that wasn’t for Ciaran, he is just such a huge Conor McGregor fan so it’s mad to see where that obsession has brought him! They have the same birthday too, and with Ciaran turning 21 in July it would be amazing if we could get Conor to meet him!"
Ciaran’s former football coach and chairman of Oldcastle Juvenile GAA when Ciaran started playing as a five year old, Dermot Monaghan, agrees that he has always given his all.
“He was a great player, in some matches he’d be the smallest player on the pitch, but he would go into tackles with lads twice as big, and out of the melee who would emerge but Ciaran with the ball!
"He’s always had a great attitude, he puts in the work and he’s so likeable and easy going that everyone is delighted for him.”
Back to Ciaran for the final word. He’s still on Cloud Nine at becoming Irish Senior Champ, and looking forward to the future. He’s delighted to head to Dublin every week or so for his Irish team training. “Obviously if the Olympics become a possibility, I want to be there! Other than that, I’d love to meet Conor McGregor! He’s still my hero, it’s my dream. Maybe someday."
You’d have to be thinking that someday, Conor McGregor will be hoping to meet Ciaran Healy!