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Irvine is in no rush to go up weights says coach Walsh

Belfast boxer Brendan Irvine returns to a welcome home party after winning a silver medal at the European Games in Baku
Picture: Cliff Donaldson 
Seconds Out with Neil Loughran

IRELAND head coach Billy Walsh has insisted Brendan Irvine’s immediate future lies in the light-flyweight division after watching the Belfast teenager land a silver medal at the inaugural European Games in Baku.

The 19-year-old went into the tournament as a virtual unknown, but could easily have returned home with a gold medal around his neck after a see-saw battle against Bator Sagaluev in last Thursday’s the 49kg decider went the way of the Russian on a split decision.

Tall for the weight and with plenty of time to fill out, Irvine has been tipped to move up to 52kg in the not-too-distant future, with a possible box-off with reigning Irish flyweight champion Myles Casey mooted.

Indeed, the St Paul’s ace suggested last month that a jump up was a possibility, especially if it opened the door to next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Walsh, though, insists there is no rush.

The Wexford man said: “He makes 49 easy – he’s very comfortable. If you’re going to make the jump to 52, there’s guys coming down from 57 or 58 kilos. They’re physically very strong.

“At the minute Brendan’s not physically very strong at 49, boxing ability-wise he’s going extremely well. Maybe that’s what scuppered him in the final – the physicality of that guy, the punches he connected with, they maybe looked more powerful. Brendan probably connected with more punches but there wasn’t enough physicality in them.

“So to transfer that, at such a young age, to 52 kilos, it could knock him backwards, in my opinion. We won’t be looking at that until he has to move to 52, and he’s nowhere near that.”

Walsh is aware that could leave the door open to a potential selection headache down the line. Two-time Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes booked his place in Rio next summer by winning all his fights in a gruelling World Series of Boxing campaign earlier this year.

However, if Irvine was to upset the odds again and secure a top three finish at October’s World Championships – a direct Olympic qualifier – Ireland would find themselves with two quota places at 49kg, but only one spot on the team. Walsh says it would be a “nice headache to have”, but warned against looking too far ahead.

“That’s a long way down the road. If he [Irvine] takes the opportunity, then the sport will be left with a decision to make on which one they would select,” said Walsh.

“I remember it happened in Britain a few years ago with Andrew Selby and Kal Yafai [the pair were scheduled to have a best-of-three box-off to decide who qualified for the 2012 Olympics before Yafai failed to make weight for the second fight].

“If it happens it happens. I think everybody within the sport, if they become a senior champion, deserves an opportunity. [IABA’s] Central council make the final decision on the team so they might decide on a box-off, or they might select one over the other.

“But that’s a bridge we’ll cross if we ever get there. We’ve only ever had one Irish guy qualify for the final at the Worlds [Jason Quigley in 2013], so we have to be realistic. It’s very difficult to qualify for the Olympics through that route.”

Having been away for a month, between a 10-day training camp and the European Games themselves, the Irish team and coaching staff will enjoy a well-earned week off after returning from Baku on Monday morning to a welcoming party at Dublin airport.

Walsh admitted before leaving for Azerbaijan that he was nervous about how the relatively inexperienced team would perform – as it turned out, he needn’t have been concerned.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” he said.

“The performances were exceptional - from the whole team, not just the guys that medalled. The likes of Kurt Walker gave his opponent [Russia’s Bakhtovar Nazirov] his hardest fight, and then he cruised through the rest of his fights to win gold, so he was very unlucky. The same happened to Michaela Walsh.

“We lost a lot of split decisions and very close decisions to guys who went on to medals. We had nine in the quarter-finals, so really that exceeded our expectations.”

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