Irishman Darragh O’Conaill’s Worlds requirement: “development of your mind and self-belief”

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Darragh in the brown belt GP at the 2013 World Jiu-Jitsu Expo. Photo: Erin Herle

Darragh in the brown belt GP at the 2013 World Jiu-Jitsu Expo. Photo: Erin Herle

Darragh O’Conaill is a brown belt under Saulo Ribeiro from Dublin, Ireland who has made his name in various international tournaments. Having medaled at the Pan Championship as well as the Europeans, he’s looking to make his move at the World Championship next week in Long Beach, CA to earn the world title.

I caught up with Darragh as he made his way to San Diego for the final preparations and learned how he got started in Jiu-Jitsu, what his days are like, how he feels about traveling to compete and what he believes is necessary for winning the big tournaments. Read on:

GRACIEMAG: How did you find Jiu-Jitsu and get into the tournament scene as well as start teaching?

DARRAGH O’CONAILL: I was first introduced to Jiu-Jitsu by my PE teacher in high school when I was around 16. He was a blue belt and taught some classes in the school I attended. At the time, rugby was my passion having played since I was eight years old. I played full time for my final two years in high school and did no Jiu-Jitsu but when I went to college to play rugby I got burnt out and stopped enjoying it. Wanting to keep fit and involved in a sport I got in contact with my old PE teacher and attended the Jiu-Jitsu classes he was teaching at a local gym. That was roughly 2007.

I was naturally competitive having played rugby for so long and entering tournaments was an obvious route for me. From my first time competing I was hooked but the scene in Ireland was so small it meant I had to travel to England and around Europe alone to gain experience.

By 2010 the academy had grown to have about 25/30 members, but my instructor had a lot of injuries and found it frustrating to keep teaching without being able to train so he offered me the chance to take over the academy for him. I had fallen in love with everything to do with Jiu-Jitsu at this point: teaching, training, competing, and couldn’t say no to the offer. I had a great job at the time working afternoons that allowed me to teach and train both in the morning and night until the academy was big enough to quit and teach/train full time. Four years on I now have my own full time academy in a new location with roughly 100 students!

When did you hook up with Rafael Lovato Jr. and his team in terms of mentorship and affiliation?

My school is a Ribeiro Team affiliate and I was introduced to Lovato by my teammate and friend from Germany, Johannes Wieth. I met Johannes in 2010 training at the University of Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego. Johannes had been to Oklahoma City to train [with Lovato] and strongly recommended I make the trip and check it out. In 2012 I travelled there for a couple months for Worlds training and loved everything about it. Since then, Rafael has been to my academy in Ireland four times and i’ve been to Oklahoma City three times. He has helped me so much not only with my skills on the mat but with my mental game and academy, too. I am beyond grateful for all the help and support he’s given me, as well as all Saulo has done for me.

Let me know what it’s like to have to travel everywhere to compete and how you adjust to that.

Having to travel everywhere to compete is not an issue for me at all really. It’s all I’ve ever known so I have nothing else to compare it to. I love travelling and have gotten to see so many amazing places because of Jiu-Jitsu. While the journeys may be long and sometimes tiring, it gives me a lot of time to think and of course I’m so grateful to have the chance to do what I love for a living so I can’t really complain!

Describe your busiest day for training, teaching and any another priorities.

A typical day for me would be to wake up around 8:30 a.m., do some yoga and eat. Head to the academy for 11 a.m. to drill, teach class and train from 12-2 p.m. Every second day we have competition team training from 4-6 p.m. Then I teach class and train again from 7 to roughly 10 p.m. Within those times, depending on the day, I also find time to cook/eat, drill with my girlfriend and take care of business at the academy.

What is the most valuable aspect of training necessary to do well in competition?

I think there are a lot of aspects necessary to do well in competition, but one of the most important for me is developing an extremely strong mental game. Everybody trains hard, does drills, lots of rounds, shark tanks, whatever. The people who make the podium are not necessarily the ones who train the hardest or with the most skill, because I believe everybody at the biggest tournaments train hard and are skilled. The ones who medal are those with the greatest will to win, the most self-belief. They have the strongest and calmest minds under pressure. In my opinion, the development of your mind and self-belief is the most important aspect of your training.

Training with Lovato. Photo: Personal archive

Training with Lovato. Photo: Personal archive

Be sure to watch the 2014 World Championship from May 28 to June 1 at the Long Beach Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California. Check out the livestream here:

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