Like father, like son? Not quite…
Following in a famous father’s footsteps can be tricky for any son.
Tom McDonnell’s dad Jim is a former two-time European featherweight boxing champion who fought twice for world titles at super-featherweight.
McDonnell Sr, 55, is now established as a top trainer, with Olympic gold medallist and current IBF super-middleweight belt-holder James DeGale amongst his fighters.
Tom’s orginal ambition was to be a professional footballer, but after being released by Tottenham at the age of 15, he gave serious thought to a switch to boxing.
“After Spurs, I had to sit down and think as to what I wanted to do,” he told me. “I went down Repton, which is renowned for being one of the best gyms in the country, but my love for football kept getting the better of me – you have to be 100% committed [to boxing] and I wasn’t.”
But was there a way of forging a career in the boxing world that didn’t involve getting in the ring?
It turned out there was, and Tom is now well on his way in getting his licence to work as a cornerman for professional fights
“I’ve always had some interest in the sport because of my dad’s involvement,” he said. “The gym was his place of work, I was allowed to go with him, so I was always in that environment with fighters and trainers.
“I’ve always enjoyed going down to the gym and watching my dad get on with it, and I started to ask if I could do something like that”
“For a lot of boys it’s all about football from a young age, and I was the same, although there was always some attraction to boxing. Seeing what my dad’s achieved inspired me to explore the sport a little more. I doubt that if he wasn’t into it, I wouldn’t be doing what I do now.”
So how did the idea of working as a cornerman on fight nights come about?
“I remember my Dad mentioning it to me a while back. I never took much notice of it, then I realised it was another option and since then it’s been my sole focus.”
Did it feel like a natural progression? “You could say that. When you’re in that environment it’s difficult to not feel inspired. I’ve always enjoyed going down to the gym and watching my dad get on with it, and I started to ask if I could do something like that.”
Tom’s older brother Jim Jnr has started down the same path too and is part of the DeGale camp.
“I’ve learned so much from him, but it’s time I start to put my knowledge into practise and show what I’m capable of”
He was with him in Boston last year when he beat Andre Dirrell, and helps with the training of other fighters in the McDonnell stable including Reece Bollotti and Jake Ball.
Tom’s cornerman course entailed an interview with the British Boxing Board of Control, to be followed by a training course for one-and-a-half days.
“The interview was fairly relaxed, I had people asking me all different questions and throwing all different scenarios at me. Having my dad and brother in the sport, I was able to learn off them so it made it easier.
“I had to know scenarios such as if your fighter comes back to the corner and has blood on his ear, what do I do?
“You would wipe the blood from his ear to see where it’s coming from, as it could just be a cut on the ear lobe. If it’s coming from inside the ear, you get the doctor over immediately.
“Or as a second if your fighter is getting badly beaten up, would you throw the towel in? As a second you cannot throw the towel in only the main trainer, although you can advise him to.”
So Tom is on course to follow his father’s path, although he’s keen to stress that he wants to be known for being himself, and not only as Jim’s son.
“It would be great to continue what he’s done/doing but at the same time I will always want to be known for my work. I’ve learned so much from him, but it’s time I start to put my knowledge into practise and show what I’m capable of.”
So Tom will continue to learn his trade from father Jim as he seeks to guide DeGale to further glory, as well as working alongside brother Jim Jnr with other fighters.
“Once I pass the course, I will join up with my dad. I will help with DeGale, Bellotti, Ball, Adolphine and maybe a few other boxers just to gain experience.
“It’s a long road and it’s only the start, so I’m keen to keep learning and get as much knowledge as possible, especially with the people I have around me. It’s important that I make use of it.”
If the example his father has set is any way a good omen, then Tom will have no problem making a name for himself.