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Peter McGrail: On the glory trail

In a sense, Peter McGrail is one of the lucky ones.

As the Coronavirus lockdown swept across the sporting landscape of the United Kingdom in March, the likeable Liverpudlian featherweight was one of the last athletes to be able to compete at international level.

On the evening of Monday 16 March, the Everton Red Triangle amateur standout knew that a win against the Czech Republic’s Kevin Godla in the final session of the soon to be suspended Olympic qualifying event in Stratford would guarantee him a berth at the Tokyo Olympics. 

The ice cool McGrail duly won a unanimous decision, thus joining Galal Yafai as the only British boxer – male or female – to have thus far sealed a place at the 32nd modern Olympiad.

“It’s one million per cent better for me and Galal who have qualified compared to the rest of the team who haven’t even had their chance to qualify,” McGrail admitted to Boxing Social. “They [the rest of the qualifiers] aren’t going to be for a while now either.”

McGrail’s Olympic qualification experience was – by his own admission – not quite how he dreamed it would be.

“I knew my qualifying fight was going to be on the Monday,” he recalled. “There was a coach load of fans coming down from Liverpool and loads of people on the trains and that.

“Loads of my friends and family were already down here when on the Sunday we were told it would be behind closed doors from Monday onwards. I was gutted obviously. There were going to be about 100 plus people there for me, being a part of the moment I qualified for the Olympics.

“That’s a moment that would have stayed with me for my whole life and that was taken away from me. But it’s just one of those things. I had to stay focused. I’m professional and experienced enough not to let stuff like that get to me. I wasn’t going to let nothing get in the way of qualifying.”

Given his gratitude for the fact he doesn’t have to sweat or fret about whether he will be in Tokyo, it is unsurprising that McGrail regards the postponement of the Games until next summer as an inconvenience rather than a tragedy.  

“I’m gutted, like proper gutted, but you can’t do anything about it so there’s no point in letting it get you down,” he said. “You could be down about it but that’s not going to change the fact it’s been postponed. It’s just one of them things.

“It’s rescheduled and I’m just focused on that now. I’m qualified which is a weight lifted off my shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nightmare having to wait. I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics since I was a kid but it will be worth the wait and I will be waiting [rather than turning pro].

“It’s a bit of a nightmare that it’s an extra year but it will be worth it. I want to go to Tokyo, win the gold then turn professional. The virus has messed that up for now but I’m just trying to see the positive side. It’s an extra year for me to work on my craft and get bigger and better and stronger.”

One thing that McGrail won’t allow himself to entertain is the notion that a ‘second spike’ of Coronavirus cases or further ‘lockdowns’ may lead to a further postponement of the Games, which are currently scheduled to take place from Friday 23 July to Sunday 8 August 2021.

“In my head, until the Olympics were postponed they were still going ahead. Now I’m telling myself the Olympics are definitely going ahead next year. I don’t want to think, ‘Oh, it might not happen’.

“Of course, I’d be gutted if it was behind closed doors because my family and girlfriend are looking to come out,” said McGrail. “But I’ve travelled all around the world and in some countries [there aren’t many spectators], so it’s like boxing behind closed doors anyway. So it wouldn’t be new to me if that happened.”

McGrail’s mindset is an accurate reflection of the positive but level-headed outlook that has made him one of the most garlanded British boxing amateurs of recent times.

The decorated McGrail is aiming for further glories at the
Tokyo Olympiad and beyond. Photo: Team GB.

With multiple medals from the World Championships, European Championships and the Commonwealth Games, as well as the Youth World Championships and Olympics, the 24-year-old is the latest in a long run of accomplished pugilists to emerge from the Everton Red Triangle Boxing Club, a proud lineage which includes the legendary three-time British featherweight champion Nelson ‘Ned’ Tarleton.

“I joined Everton Red Triangle when I was ten,” said McGrail. “One of me friends asked me to go down. I ended up going and obviously I enjoyed it.

“I actually lost my first three fights in a row. I was only 11 and my coach said I used to get out the ring still laughing and smiling. I think I was so young that I weren’t too bothered.

“But then I remember I won my next 19 fights, which included my first national title and boxed for England for the first time against Wales and Scotland in the Three Nations.

“From there, I won loads of fights and loved the feeling of winning. That’s when I thought this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

McGrail’s narrow failure to make the British Olympic team for the Rio Games has fuelled his desire to compete in Tokyo – a desire that was further driven by being in Brazil during the 2016 Games as a sparring partner for Qais Ashfaq, who was preferred for a berth in the bantamweight category by Team GB.

“When I first got to Rio I was gutted. I walked in the gym and I wanted to get on the next flight home,” recalled McGrail. “But then I took the experience and the atmosphere in and it was the next level. I thought to myself then, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do’.”

He’s had to wait a bit longer to compete at the next Olympics, but when his time finally comes, write off Peter McGrail at your peril.

Main image: Martin Rickett, Press Association.