Darragh O’Conaill – Ready to take on the world

Darragh O Conaill

One of the brightest stars coming out of the Irish Brazilian Jiu Jitsu scene, Darragh O’Conaill caught up with Peter Carroll ahead of a particularly busy competition schedule that will see him compete at least five times in the next eight weeks, including a November date at the World Jiu Jitsu No Gi Championships in California.

After his gold haul in Rome at the European championships, Darragh O’Conaill didn’t spend much time celebrating. Instead he refocused himself on what he considers his ultimate goal, the World Jiu Jitsu Championships, and with just over three weeks remaining to the sport’s flagship event, the Dubliner is ever focused.

“The worlds have always been what I’ve wanted in the sport,” said O’Conaill from his stronghold, East Coast Jiu Jitsu Academy, where he is coach to a number of European prospects in Dun Laoghaire.  “It could be my last chance to win it as a brown belt and I think I’m in the best position I have been to take the gold this time around.”

Working closely with two of the gentle art’s royalty, Saulo Ribeiro and Rafael Lovato Jr, in the lead up to a flurry of competitive outings that will see him compete five times in eight weeks – the London Open, the World Jiu Jitsu No Gi Championships, the World Jiu Jitsu Expo, the Abu Dhabi Pro Trials and the Dublin Open – O’Conaill feels primed for the challenge ahead.

“Training has been going really well. I just had Saulo over for some seminars and before that I got some great sessions in with Rafael,” said O’Conaill. “Going between the two of them guys would have anyone sharp and I’m really confident heading into these competitions.

“I haven’t taken on any extra strength and conditioning programme or anything like that, I’m just constantly on the mats and I’m feeling really good.”

The London Open begins the Irish brown belt’s campaign this weekend, a familiar stomping ground for O’Conaill who will return as a two time champion.

“London is a great starting point. I’ve been successful there before, and although it isn’t the biggest competition in the world – it’s a very high standard and if I win there it will give me some momentum heading into the worlds.

“Momentum is very important to me,” he said. “It’s something that I constantly stress to my students – get your win and then immediately focus on your next match.

“With the London Open it’s always in the same venue, I know a lot of the people there and I’m completely focused on getting the win. I’m very comfortable there and I can’t see anything else happening but me taking home the gold medal.

“Last year it was kind of like a launch pad for me. I won the No Gi Europeans in London and then I went on to appear in the Kumite. That was a really big deal for me.”

His appearance on the popular jiu jitsu internet series pitted him against a group of peers considered among the best brown belts in the world, making him easily recognisable on the circuit as his performances escalated him into the top three in the rankings on a number of occasions throughout 2013.

With some expectant eyes on him in tournaments, the Irishman has found himself even more determined to succeed.

“It just motivates me more really,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned I’ve done some good things in the sport, but there is still so many thing that I want to achieve.

“It’s fun meeting people that have seen the show, it’s nice, but it doesn’t affect me as far as competition is concerned. Every competition I go into, I’m going in to win it and I’ve always felt that way.”

Such is his rise that the ECJJA coach was named in a sixteen man brown belt bracket that will be contested at the World Jiu Jitsu Expo in California, a week after the world championships.

“The World Expo tournament looks great, it was a real honour to be picked for it. As far as I know I’m the only European selected, but everyone in there is really high quality.

“I would’ve thought that Jackson Sousa would be the favourite to win it, but he’s got his black belt now so he won’t be competing. There are a lot of guys that were purple belt champions in the mix, there should be some great matches,” said O’Conaill.

Despite his hectic close to 2013, the Dun Laoghaire based grappler has already set his eyes on 2014 – setting personal goals as well as for his stable of competitors.

“Next year I want to win every event I go to,” he said. “First up is the European championships and I think I’ve got five or six people in the gym who could be taking gold medals away from that event.

“We always want to win team championship at the Irish Open as well, but after that we’ll just take each competition as it comes.”

Although the grappling ace can’t see past his career in jiu jitsu for the time being, he did indicate that a return to MMA at some stage would definitely interest him, having fought professionally as a young man posting a record of 0-2.

“Only when I’ve achieved everything I want to in jiu jitsu,” said O’Conaill. “But, definitely, I want to improve that record! John Kavanagh sometimes jokes with me about it, but I love MMA and I could see myself fighting again in the future.”

Still very much in the Irish MMA loop, O’Conaill has helped his fellow Dubliner, Conor McGregor, in the build-up to some of his recent contests. With the SBGi man taking some criticism about his grappling skills from the likes of Nick Lentz of late, the East Coast coach gave his expert opinion on “The Notorious”.

“Conor’s grappling is brilliant. He’s a strong purple belt and he would be able to hang with anyone in that bracket across the world. When I roll with him No Gi he puts me in really tricky positions against the cage, something I’m not used to at all, his skill set is great for MMA,” he finished.

For more information on Darragh O’Conaill and East Coast Jiu Jitsu Academy, log on to http://ecjja.com/

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.

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