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Interview: Northern Ireland boxer Steven Donnelly

Northern Ireland boxer Steven Donnelly speaks to Sports Mole about his quest for Commonwealth gold, his rocky road back from Rio and what the future may hold for him.

It is fair to say that Northern Ireland boxer Steven Donnelly has not enjoyed the best of times at major multi-sport events in the past.

The Ballymena-born welterweight was thrashed in the first round of the 2010 Commonwealth Games before subsequently being sent home from the competition by team management after drinking alcohol and causing a disturbance in the Athletes' Village.

The incident caused him to quit boxing for two years, and there was an element of redemption at the 2014 Games in Glasgow when he won a bronze medal - although he was still disappointed that it was not gold.

Donnelly was then embroiled in a betting scandal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio as he once again failed to medal, but he is now determined to get the reward he believes his career deserves by standing atop the podium at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

At 29 years old the long-time amateur is refusing to rule out turning pro before the next Olympics in Tokyo, but he is first focused on being crowned Commonwealth champion.

Donnelly took a stride towards that goal with a hard-fought victory over Welsh youngster Kyran Jones in his opening bout this afternoon, winning on a split decision following a thrilling contest.

After the fight, Donnelly spoke to Sports Mole about his hopes for the Games, the road back from Rio and his plans for the future.

That was a hell of a fight - what did you make of it?

"It was a great fight - I knew it would be as well. We met before in the training camp in Canberra and I had a training match with him. It was very technical and very good.

"He's very young as well, I think he's only 21. I knew he would have an energy about him and be very fit, but I knew I'd have more strength than him."

Was it even tougher than you expected?

"A wee bit tougher than expected. He fought a bit more, only because he knew he was behind, so he had to try to force it, but I'm happy with that. The first fight is always the tough one. I'll get better and sharper as the competition goes on."

The judges gave it as a split decision in the end, but did you feel in control throughout the fight?

"I felt in control, a couple times he got close with some shots but it never hurt me at all. I was always in control, comfortable."

Do you think it was your experience that got you over the line in the end?

"Experience yes, experience always works for me at this level. I didn't go rushing things. Experience has played a part but hopefully I can go out now and progress in this competition."

Is there anything in particular you think you need to improve on from that fight?

"Maybe I just stood there and traded it a wee bit more than I should have, maybe just move a wee bit more. That will come, I haven't fought since November I think it was, the first time in the ring in a few months, but that will do me really good."

You've got Gibrilla Kamara from Sierra Leone in the next round - what do you know of him?

"Kamara yes - he got a bye so I don't know nothing about him, but those Africans can be tricky and quick and make you look bad. But I should have enough in the locker to beat him."

Will you try to come up with a game plan before that fight or will you just have to go into it blind?

"I don't know at the moment. I'll have to see if any of my coaches have got any footage of him. But I'll go in blind, I'm used to doing that as well."

It hasn't been a smooth road since Rio - what would a gold medal mean for you here?

"It would mean the world to me. To finish my career on the high that I deserve. If you ask anyone, I'm the hardest trainer on the team. Every session I put 100% into.

"I really deserve something bigger at this game. The pros hasn't really worked out for me, but as a veteran at this level I want to do myself proud. It will be my last Commonwealth Games. We'll see how it goes - you never know I'll probably end up in Birmingham in four years' time!"

Is that gold medal something you are already thinking about, or is it one fight at a time for you?

"It is something I visualise, but that's the easy part. You have to go out and do it, you have to be under the lights and that's what I've got the experience to do.

"It takes a lot of hard work, and I will have to improve a wee bit, but as the fights go on I will improve. It's getting closer now."

Is competing in the Tokyo Olympics the current goal?

"Tokyo is the plan if I stay amateur. Tokyo would be my second Olympic Games, but all the options are open - the main thing is just not giving up."

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