Ryan O’Donoghue brings fighting spirit to Mayo football from boxing days

O’Donoghue also played underage soccer for Ireland
Ryan O’Donoghue brings fighting spirit to Mayo football from boxing days

Mayo footballer Ryan O'Donoghue pictured at AIB's launch of the 2021 GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ryan O’Donoghue is a pasta and plain chicken man to this day, a straightforward protein and carbs rich diet he lived off as a boxer growing up.

“I’m still a very plain eater,” says the Mayo forward. “Everyone knows that in my squad. I was eating plain pasta and chicken from the age of 11 or 12.”

In the end, that obsession with good food and, closer to fight time, needing to cut and shed weight, turned the 2010 ‘Boy 1’ 33kg national champion off the sport.

“That was a killer for me,” he admits. “It’s a very, very demanding sport. I respect any single boxer that does it at any level. The weight is the worst part of it, to be honest. It’s alright when you win, it’s brilliant, everyone rallies around you.

“But when you lose, there are some dark days. It’s literally you, your coach and your family.”

A query at AIB’s launch of the GAA All-Ireland football championship about the commitment required to be a decent boxer draws an intriguing response.

“I remember in national school, in sixth class, getting up at 6am and my father going behind me in the Berlingo van with the lights on. I was running two miles in the morning and then running home from school. It’s definitely instilled a determination in me, a never-say-die attitude and I think that will stay with me for a long, long time.”

It’s that determination that led to O’Donoghue, captain of the Mayo U20 team that lost the 2018 All-Ireland final, to request the responsibility of free-taking in Cillian O’Connor’s injury-enforced absence.

The Belmullet man stepped into the breach against Sligo last weekend, scoring 0-5, with 0-4 from frees.

“I like the responsibility,” he says. “I’ve taken frees at club level, I took them for the Mayo minors as well. It’s nothing I’m not used to. I like the bit of extra responsibility.”

It’s only last year that O’Donoghue and a crew of ambitious tyros broke into the Mayo team but already he’s a central player. He’s been delivering at a high level for years, also playing underage soccer for Ireland.

“I played for Sligo for three seasons, I have three caps for the Irish schoolboys. The dream always was to go across the pond. But a realisation hit me when I was 18 or 19 that I kind of knew I wasn’t good enough, or that I would have needed a big slice of luck.”

Closing in on his 23rd birthday and graduated from UL, O’Donoghue has narrowed his focus towards success with Mayo. Throughout his time boxing and playing soccer, a desire to be successful for his county was always there.

“Definitely, it’s looking at what the players have done before us, giving us that hope,” he says. “All the days out in Croker and all of that. Belmullet is just football, football, football. Mayo football is everything. Championship Sundays, that’s what people in Mayo live for.”

It’s hard to see Mayo coming unstuck in the short-term, even without talisman O’Connor. They play Leitrim in the Connacht semi-finals on Sunday week, buoyed by the 3-23 to 0-12 defeat of Sligo. Darren McHale struck 1-5 on his debut and O’Donoghue was impressed.

“There’s a possibility Darren may not have started if Cillian was there — and he goes and puts in a 1-5 performance. He just performed really well.

“It’s just about the rest of us stepping up. Aido (O’Shea) is still leading the six forwards, from 11 or 14 or wherever he goes. It’s just about us stepping up to fill that void.”

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