Clad in the blue and gold of his native Premier County, Matthew Macklin soon made it clear that GAA HQ was a press conference venue very much settled upon by design.
“For me, performing in Croke Park has always been the ultimate dream” said the one-time Tipperary hurling prospect during a media junket in summer 2014.
And though Birmingham-born Macklin had by then made peace with watching his county’s pursuit of Liam MacCarthy from this side of the touchline, the desire to showcase his wares at Ireland’s sporting mecca never wavered.
“You go from hurling for Tipp at under-14 and under-16 to having fought in Madison Square Garden on Paddy’s Day.
“Those are things you want to achieve when you start your career. But the pinnacle for me would be fighting or defending a world title at Croke Park.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day, however. By that point, Macklin hadn’t boxed on Irish soil since he outpointed Rafael Sosa Pintos at the National Stadium in 2009.
Having stepped out of the ring in on that occasion a fighter still very much on the road from domestic honours to the world scene, he wasn’t long planting his feet firmly under the sport’s top table.
Although the ultimate prize would ultimately allude him, Macklin retired this morning a veteran of three commendable world title tilts. To say the first of these, a 2011 split-decision loss to Felix Sturm, was controversial would be an understatement.
Indeed, the post-fight recriminations suggested that amongst the only people in Cologne who didn’t think the visitor had won the bout were the trio of judges charged with scoring it. Macklin, for his part, would eventually get a second bite of the cherry on St Patrick’s Day of the following year.
Once more he was lauded for his showing, this time pushing hall of fame shoe-in Sergio Martinez to the pin of his collar before falling on his sword in the final stanza. In comparison to those which preceded it, however, the most recent of Macklin’s ill-fated title challenges turned out to be altogether more humbling. A third-round howitzer from Gennady Golovkin would ultimately leave him not only nursing a broken heart, but a pair of broken ribs for good measure.
While losing in that manner to anyone else would have been detrimental to his future prospects in a stacked 160-pound division, coming up short against the heavy-handed Kazakh has proven very much par for the course. Loath as he may be to admit it, on some level Macklin will have known he was betting with house money as he stepped through the ropes that night at Connecticut’s Foxwood Casino. Eighteen months on, however, the man they call ‘Mack The Knife’ endeavored to lay the foundations for one last shot at the middleweight jackpot.
But while the fire continued to burn, it appeared the spark had gone. A crushing stoppage loss to Jorge Sebastian Heiland in November 2014 seemed to extinguish it altogether, the Argentine’s impressive showing at Dublin’s 3Arena doing little to endear him to the home support. And while Macklin would go on to register four wins in the two years which followed, the debilitating nature of the contests seemed irreconcilable with the level of opposition he was facing. Jason Welborn, after all, seemed a far cry from Sergio Martinez.
Last month’s outing against another former world title challenger, Brian Rose, seemed an altogether more fitting test of his mettle, and one which he ultimately passed with flying colours. That grueling battle with the Blackpool brawler turned out to be a jumping off point rather than a starting one for Macklin, though , London’s O2 Arena proving a worthy backdrop to his last stand.
For the first time in 15 years, the stakes aren’t all that high for Matthew Macklin as he hangs up his gloves this morning. But having spent his entire career trying to raise them, that might take some getting used to.