Khushi Jain examines boxing crime drama Swing Bout. 

Swing bout fights are used to fill gaps in the TV schedule created by a series of quick knockouts. The fighters, pacing with uncertainty, may be called at a moment’s notice to put their lives on the line in exchange for a few minutes of screen time, modern-day gladiators dancing on the edge of entertainment. Maurice O’Carroll tells the story of one such athlete, the young and eager ‘Terrible’ Toni, who is faced with the dirty realities of the boxing business over the span of one life-altering night. Premiering at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, Swing Bout is a crime drama of sport, scandal and familiar villains. It is a boxing film without a boxing ring.

‘The one who looks outside dreams, the one who looks inside awakes. Wakey wakey motherf*cker.’ these words of encouragement open O’Carroll’s film and introduce the juvenile but resilient Toni Gale (Ciara Berkeley). Black tracksuit, hair tightly braided and a set of massive headphones embody her discipline, arrow-sharp focus and agitation. She is a swing bout fighter, waiting in the dressing room for a chance to step into the ring and, one day, become world champion. Unbeknownst to her, a web of deceit and betrayal is being woven by her coach, Emma (Sinead O’Riordan), and her greedy promoters, the Casey brothers, Jack (Ben Condron) and Micko (Frank Prendergast). Soon enough, Toni will be asked to take a dive in the second round and let her opponent, ‘Vicious’ Vicki (Chrissie Cronin), win, shattering her dreams for a lucrative pay off.

O’Carroll grounds his match of malice and manipulation firmly in the underbelly of the boxing world, backstage and far from the ring. As the night progresses, the central plot is interwoven with a number of complex tendrils, a betting scandal, affairs coming to light, murder inquiries, Vicki’s panic attack, and another boxer facing the live threatening violence of the sport. Each and every character is trapped in the confined spaces of Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium, where the camera is restricted to the dressing room, media room, medical centre, storeroom, toilets and an office. In the beige and windowless halls of this nether realm, these many subplots are played out via walking montages and long conversational takes. The action is enriched by the background voiceovers of Toni’s podcast and the live commentary of ongoing matches revealing the fighters’ internal psychology while also allowing the excitement of the outside to seep in. O’Carroll reaches for friction, tension and memorable villains, but at times the filthy chaos comes out soapy clean as the anticipation simmers.

The high stakes of the film often stand in contrast to the still visual landscape. Amidst all the disturbances, Berkeley as Toni maintains an uninterrupted nervous calm and tends to her character. Having previously appeared in a supporting role in Element Pictures series Normal People and two shorts, this is Berkeley’s cinematic debut and she knows how to make an impression. Toni’s delightfully Machiavellian coach is played by Sinéad O’ Riordan, who is also the producer of the project. Ben Condron returns in his third collaboration with O’Carroll as a predictable Jack in the box-ing world. This half of the Casey brothers does all things that one expects from a stock and gluttonous villain, from snorting cocaine to making unsolicited lewd comments at women. As his less dramatic but equally money-grubbing brother Micko, Frank Prendergast balances the duo by delivering giving a controlled and steady performance. Ciara O’Connor was the costume designer, Mark O’Rourke the DoP and Darren O’Mahony the production designer, while O’Carroll himself handled the editing of this punk, indie film.

Toni’s journey from the dressing room to the ring proves to be fertile ground for O’Carroll to explore the corruption and monetary selfishness rampant in the sporting industry. With a cast and crew of breakout artists (a lot of them from Cork), Swing Bout showcases the impressive creative ambitions of emerging Irish talent on both sides of the camera.

Swing Bout premiered at DIFF on 26th February 2024. 


Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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