Blaney back on comeback trail
Hatton-trained Irish title contender raring to go after serious eye injury
It's almost a year since Chris Blaney fought competitively.
The Ricky Hatton-trained Navan fighter won his opening bout in the Last Man Standing event at the National Stadium last March before coming unstuck against eventual finalist Jack Cullen.
An eye injury which required an operation has kept Blaney (10-1, 3 KOs) out of action since.
"It was a horrible time," says the middleweight. "It was only afterwards that Ricky and the team admitted they thought it could have been a career-ending injury.
"But I believed I'd be back so I kept training in the gym with the lads, as if I was training for a fight. I did everything except sparring. It was good for the morale to feel part of the team."
The problem was that Blaney's superior oblique muscle, which is attached to the eyeball and helps it rotate, had torn.
"I had an eye problem before Last Man Standing but I said nothing and left it until afterwards to have it checked," he reveals.
"The muscle was loose and flapping. The surgeon said that usually they can heal themselves. He suggested I give it six months. But when I went back, he said it would require surgery."
The operation was a success. However, a delay in recovery forced Blaney to cancel a comeback fight in November.
"That was the worst," he says. "We were all happy with training but I had a problem with my focus. The surgeon said because the muscle had been inactive for so long it would take more time to recover. Luckily, I didn't need a second operation.
"I'll have stitches in the back of my eye for the rest of my life. Hopefully it won't break again."
While Blaney's career was on hold, Cullen (15-1, 6 KOs) has had four wins, three by stoppage, in four fights since the pair met; he fights for the British middleweight title against Reece Cartwright on March 9.
Blaney trains alongside 6ft 3in Cullen. "I was happy to fight Jack," he says. "But I had a disastrous second round which lost me the fight. You live and learn. But Jack is good and he'll go far."
Rejuvenated, Blaney will have his first fight back tonight in Walsall Town Hall.
"My opponent pulled out," he says. "But I'm told I'll be fighting a Latvian replacement.
"I won't be trying to make a statement. It's just about getting the rounds in and getting the cobwebs off."
Provided there are no problem with the eye under fight conditions, Blaney is looking forward to a busy year. "We'll be getting back into big fights," he says.
The first of those should be on next month's Eric Donovan-headlined Clash of the Titans bill at the National Stadium, live on TG4.
"I gave up my BUI Celtic title while I was injured," says Blaney. "But I'm mandatory for the Irish national middleweight title."