MEET Caoimhín Agyarko, a 22-year-old Belfast boxer who dreams of becoming Ireland‘s first black World champion.

Born in London to an Irish mother, Rosaleen Hynes, and a Ghanaian father, Atta Agyarko, Caoimhín has returned to the city of his birth to pursue his ambitions.

However, his life has been shaped by his upbringing in West Belfast and, in particular, what happened on the night of May 1, 2017, when he came within inches of losing his life.

He has mostly happy memories of being one of few black teenagers hanging out around the Falls Road in the Noughties.

His parents split up when he was a toddler and his mother decided to raise her three children, Eoghan, Caoimhín and Summer back in her native Belfast.

Situated directly across the road from their grandmother‘s home in Belfast is the Holy Trinity Boxing club.

One day Rosaleen took her two sons to the club to show them where her brother Jim used to box. Before long, the Hynes brothers – they used their mother‘s maiden name – became associated with boxing and their involvement helped them assimilate into the community.

“At first it was a lot different for three kids with English accents running around West Belfast, but once we got involved in boxing we became known and though we experienced racism now and again it wasn‘t a big issue,” Caoimhín says.

For a long time it looked like Eoghan, rather than his kid brother, would make the grade in the ring.

“He was the talented one. Somebody once branded us as the Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali of Belfast boxing.

“Eoghan was Ali as he could move, while I was Frazier. I was just a small, chubby kid who could punch.”

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Caoimhín persisted and by the time he was 14 he was able to train with the senior boxers in the club. Suddenly his career took off in spectacular fashion.

Before long he won schoolboy titles and was boxing for Ireland at underage World and European Championships. Sadly a hand injury effectively ended Eoghan‘s career in his mid-teens.

By then Caoimhín had his sights sets on becoming a professional fighter, but longtime coach Mickey Hawkins convinced him to stay in the amateur ranks. Then everything changed in a flash.

May 1, 2017, ought to have been one of the happiest days in the life of the then 20-year-old. The previous month he had won the gold medal at the prestigious Montana Belts multi-nation boxing tournament in Paris.

He was out on a date with his new girlfriend Caoife that night. They attended a charity boxing event before heading to Thompson‘s nightclub near City Hall.

Later they joined a long queue outside McDonald‘s on Royal Avenue. A cup was flung through the air, striking Hynes on the back and spilling its contents over him and his girlfriend.

“I walked down the queue and asked who done it. Nobody said anything. Eventually somebody pointed towards a group. I walked over to them and asked what their problem was. I kinda got into a bit of an argument, but then I walked away,” he recalls.

However, the argument kicked off again and Hynes was involved in a scuffle which quickly escalated.

“Somebody came in from the side and hit me with a bottle. I have never been dropped in my life in either the street or in boxing, but I hit the deck.

“I got up and chased one of them and everything after that is a bit of a blur. The only thing I can remember is that I had one of them on the ground and my girlfriend pulled me off him and spun me around. She just said: ‘What happened to your face Caoimhín?‘

Unbeknownst to Hynes, who was stone-cold sober,the side of his face had been sliced open by a Stanley blade. Critically, the actual stabbing took place behind a pillar, away from the gaze of a nearby CCTV camera.

Blood was spouting from the five-inch gash, but Hynes, whose wallet and mobile phone had also disappeared, was oblivious to the danger he was in.

“I managed to get to my feet and Caoife hugged me. I didn‘t feel anything. I just thought it was a bruise. All I wanted was to get her back to the safety of the nightclub because her brother worked there.”

Even when the PSNI arrived, Caoimhín didn‘t realise the mortal danger he was in.

“I was saying to them ‘just let me go home and I‘ll stick a plaster on it‘.”

It was only when the ambulance crew told him they were bypassing three hospitals in the city centre in order to take him to the Ulster Hospital, where he could receive specialist treatment, that it dawned on him that he was seriously injured.

“I was rushed into A&E and quickly there were about 10 doctors around me. I got 16 stitches and was told I would be in for surgery later that day.”

In the event Hynes had to be rushed to theatre a couple of hours later, after the wound swelled up so much that the stitches burst. By the time he woke up he was surrounded by his family.

Later he learned that had the blade sliced through skin and tissue for another inch-and-a-half it would have cut his main artery and he would have been dead in less than a minute.

Hynes has in effect made a full recovery, but the reality is more nuanced. He won a gold medal in a tournament in Barcelona when he returned to action in the autumn of 2017.

Last spring he secured the Irish elite light heavyweight title in the National Stadium and he won his first two professional fights in the middleweight division.

Mentally, though, he still carries the scars.

“I don‘t like going into town or being in crowds any more. I would have nightmares about it all the time. Last night, for example, I was watching a movie at home and somebody got stabbed in it and I had to stop looking at it.”

His personal relationships have suffered as well. He had a falling out with his mother and brother more than a year ago and has not spoken to either since.

But being based in London for his training camps means he has more with his dad Atta and has taken his surname, Agyarko. Currently sidelined with a hand injury, he believes his dream of being the first black Irish boxer to win a world title is an achievable goal.

“I have taken myself away from my comfort zone and am making a lot of sacrifices in order to achieve my dream. I may pick up Irish, British and Commonwealth titles on the way, but they don‘t appeal to me.

“I have set my goals high. I got into professional boxing to become a world champion. It‘s always been my dream and I know what I have to do to get there,” he declared.

Online Editors

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