AFTER Tony Stephenson won his gold medal fight at the recent senior WAKO World Kickboxing Championships, he was physically exhausted. The Bantry man was struggling to stay on his two feet. That three-round title fight, and the four in the build up, had taken their toll.
His coach, Drimoleague man Ian Kingston, gave Tony a hug, congratulated him, and then told him to ‘stand up and act like a champion.’
Tony stood up.
Ian’s fighters will do what he says because, invariably, he makes the right decisions.
It was Ian who was in Tony’s corner in the final against Italian Mattia Amatuzio. It was Ian who kept Tony focussed. It was Ian’s voice who Tony heard throughout the fight.
‘Keep moving, Tony.’
‘Keep it simple, Tony.’
‘I just had to follow up and execute his tactics,’ says Tony (28), who has complete trust in the mentor who has trained him for 20 years at West Cork Kickboxing Club and who has moulded him into the fighter that he is.
Ian knows how Tony thinks. He knows how all his fighters think. He knows kickboxing inside out and back to front. He loves the sport. Lives it. And he passes that passion on to all who come through his door at West Cork Kickboxing Club, which he set him up and now runs. It’s the home to national, European and world champions. The club has won 14 world championship titles and 11 European titles at the various levels, and all that success can be traced back to Ian. No wonder it is one of the best kickboxing clubs in the country.
Before he coached, Ian fought himself at national, European and world level. Not surprisingly, he was a world-class competitor too, a warrior.
The similarities with another local world-class coach, Dominic Casey, are too many to ignore. Both are men who prefer to let their coaching do the talking and who, whenever they can, stay out of the spotlight, but their stories are remarkably alike.
Before both coached, they were extremely competitive sportsmen themselves. Dominic was one of the top Irish scullers in the 1980s, drawn to rowing and how what he put into it was directly linked to what he got out of the sport; he won eight national titles. Ian was drawn to the competitive edge of kickboxing; that lit a fire that still burns. He won several national titles as well as world silver and bronze.
As Dominic is regarded as the key figure in the success of Skibbereen Rowing Club at national level, it’s Ian’s influence at West Cork Kickboxing Club that sees it acknowledged as one of the best in the country. Both are driving forces in their respective clubs, the homes of champions and the world’s elite.
Both men, too, have translated their success at club level to the international stage with Dominic now Rowing Ireland’s High Performance Lightweight Coach and Ian is an Irish national coach. That’s recognition at national level.
Both Dominic and Ian have trained national, European and world champions in their respective sports and moulded some of the country’s finest sportspeople. For Paul O’Donovan, there’s Lily de la Cour. For Gary O’Donovan, there’s Tony Stephenson. Dominic and Ian are responsible for more world champions from West Cork than any other sports. This year, Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy won world rowing gold, Tony Stephenson won world kickboxing gold.
It goes without saying that both Dominic and Ian are world-class coaches - Dominic was named World Rowing Coach of the Year in 2018, while Ian was inducted into the Cork Martial Arts Promotions (CMAP) Hall of Fame in 2013.
And while both Dominic and Ian have made immense contributions to the West Cork sporting landscape, it’s their contributions to the local communities that deserve all our respect. Think of the hundreds and hundreds of kids who have walked through the doors of both clubs, and then think of the values that both Dominic and Ian had instilled in them. All those kids are taught respect, discipline, self-control, and a lot more as well. Both men also put their athletes’ needs first.
When Greg Sheehan from Douglas wanted to explore the world of kickboxing, he was pointed in the direction of Ian Kingston and West Cork Kickboxing Club. Greg drove up and down from the city to Skibbereen a couple of times a week for one reason: to learn under Ian Kingston. That was four years ago and he has travelled up and down every week ever since. Why? Greg said, ‘Ian is one of the best coaches in the world.’
Again, another world-class coach here in West Cork. We really are spoiled. This is a golden era for West Cork sport, given the Skibbereen rowers’ continued success, Ballineen’s Phil Healy is the fastest Irish woman ever, Bandon’s Conor Hourihane is now a Premier League and international footballer, Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin is a four-time British Rally Champion, rugby stars like Darren Sweetnam of Dunmanway, Kealkill’s Fineen Wycherley, the Coombes cousins, Gavin and Liam, of Skibbereen are shining with Munster, and there’s many more to be proud of as well. And right up there are West Cork’s kickboxers, amongst the best in the world, and that’s a testament to an incredible club founded and run here in West Cork.
Ian Kingston is so many things to so many people. To Lily de la Cour, he is her biggest role model in sport. To Tony Stephenson, he is an inspiration and a motivator. To 2016 world junior champion Grainne Begley, he is the reason she won that world title; she said, ‘My world title is his as much as it is mine.’
Years ago, Lily de la Cour told us ‘I owe him everything. He is simply a fantastic coach,’ and recently she explained, ‘Year in, year out, he is phenomenal, he is so motivated and so selfless, it’s all about our betterment and helping us reach our goals.’
Ian is world-class on and off the mat, a terrific ambassador for West Cork and another reason why we’re delivering knock-out blows on the international sporting stage year after year.
Thanks Ian, and keep up the good work.