Boxing

TJ hoping Brendan Irvine rematch will be worth the Waite as pair set for Irish semi-final meeting

TJ Waite's hand is raised after he defeated Jason McKay in the 2016 flyweight semi-final - just hours after the Ormeau Road fighter's mother Suzie passed away
Neil Loughran

TJ WAITE knows he has struggled to take his form from the gym onto the big stage, but believes he is capable of springing a major upset at the National Stadium on Friday night when he takes on Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine.

The showdown between the two Belfast boxers is a rematch of last year's Irish elite flyweight final, which 20-year-old St Paul's star Irvine won after three rounds of cat and mouse action.

“It was a very close fight, more like a chess match,” admits Waite.

“There weren't very many punches landed either way, all the rounds were very cagey - I was trying to counter, he was trying to counter.”

Irvine's hand was raised, while Waite was left to look back on another near miss.

It's the story of his short career to date, and the Ormeau Road fighter says he is still searching for the reason why he has yet to fulfil his potential.

“If anyone ever saw me train or spar, I was giving all the good fighters all they wanted and more,” said the 22-year-old.

“Even guys who were champions at the weight above, but whenever it came to fights I just never seemed to perform. I didn't seem to be the same person.

“I've never been afraid to fight anybody so I don't know what it is. It's not just the big occasions, even the small occasions it just doesn't show up.

“I don't know why, I still haven't found out. You haven't seen the best of me yet.”

By reaching last year's final, Waite showed some signs of what was to come - a feat made all the more remarkable considering the personal trauma in his own life at the time.

Following a battle with cancer, Waite's mother Suzie passed away the morning of his scheduled semi-final meeting with Jason McKay yet, despite his grief, he decided to travel to Dublin and fight.

When he beat McKay, Waite looked to the heavens and dedicated the victory to his late mother. A year on, it hardly seems real.

“To be honest, when I think back to it now it's all basically blurred.

“I can't even remember the fight… I basically just felt I had to do it.”

Although he came up short against Irvine a week later, Waite had made his mark at national level.

Yet despite coming from a fighting family – his grandfather Tommy snr is a coach at Cairn Lodge, dad Tommy jnr a former pro boxer while cousin Marc McCullough is an ex-European champion – he admits he was a late-comer to the fight game.

Indeed one of his earliest memories inside the ring was as an 11-year-old just new to the sport, being thrown in against a small, skinny kid called Brendan Irvine.

“I was a lot bigger than him then but he's a bit bigger than me now,” laughs Waite.

“Maybe he developed or matured a wee bit quicker than me. He has plenty of experience, he qualified for Rio and did a lot of good things at youth level that I didn't do, but at senior level it's different.”

So how does TJ Waite plan to reverse last year's result?

It's not complicated – the same, only better.

He said: “I'll try to land more strikes myself instead of him landing more.

“It'll not be much different, we both know each other, we've spent the year together in Dublin sparring and training together. I know what he brings, he knows what I bring so it's going to be a good fight no matter what.

“Last year I was the second worst odds in the competition, I thought it was a bit funny at the time. You'd have thought I didn't have a chance in hell, so hopefully I can change that and at least get a wee bit of recognition.”

HYNES HAS REVENGE ON HIS MIND AHEAD OF BROADHURST CLASH

HOLY Trinity banger Caoimhin Hynes will have revenge on his mind on Friday night when he steps between the ropes to face Stephen Broadhurst.

Two years ago, in Hynes's first Irish Elite Championships, Broadhurst – from the Dealgan club in Dundalk – got the nod from the judges, leaving the Belfast boy to go back to the drawing board.

That was at welterweight but now both have moved up to the 75 kilo division, Broadhurst having taken a break from the sport in the time between.

The pair were put on a collision course when the draw was made last Friday and, after safely negotiating their quarter-finals, they will go at it again for a place in the middleweight final against either Emmett Brennan (Glasnevin) or Camlough's Fearghus Quinn.

“He was one over me so I'll be looking for revenge,” said Hynes.

“He's good, but I think I'll get revenge this time. I didn't see much of him on Friday because he was in the fight before me so I was warming up, but I heard he tired quickly.

“No matter what though, both of us have to get in and perform. This is the kind of fight where it comes down to who has the better tactics on the night.”

And, having undergone an intense 10-week training programme with coach Mark O'Hara, 20-year-old Hynes feels he is in a good place.

His quarter-final against Conor Doherty pitted him against a man he has spent over a decade sparring and who, until last year, was a Holy Trinity club-mate.

Indeed, the pair met at exactly the same stage of last year's Irish elites, with Hynes emerging victorious on that occasion too.

“Conor and I sparred a lot, so we know each other very well,” he continued.

“But this year I've changed my style completely, I knew I had a lot more to bring to the table where as last year it was a tight fight.

“I've improved my footwork and variety of punches – instead of standing in front of people waiting all the time I'm completely changing it up, keeping my opponents thinking.”

COUNTY ANTRIM TO FACE TALENTED KILDARE SELECT

A COUNTY Antrim select is to take on St Michael's, Athy at Belfast's Lansdowne Hotel on Saturday.

In an event sponsored by Belfast City Council, some superb bouts lie in wait, with the action getting under way at 6pm (weigh-in at 4pm).

8 years 25kg (exb): M Dawson (Lisburn) v S Gallagher

10 years 32kg (exb): O Dunlop (Kronk) v J Sully

10 years 25kg (exb): J McArdle (Ligoniel) v N Donohue

G1 26kg: L Farley (St John Bosco) v M Carthy

B3 60kg: C Dickey (Scorpion) v F Scully

B1 44kg: C Johnston (All Saints) v D Joyce

B2 38kg: J Watson (Saints) v C Brennan

B4 54kg: J Hanvey (Glengormley) v J Carthy

B3 59kg: S McCarthy (Star) v M Carthy

B2 29kg: D McGuigan (Gleann) v J Donohue

B4 31kg: D Bradley (Holy Trinity) v N Carthy

B3 35kg: D Eagleson (BABA) v M Donohue

B4 44kg: J McConnell (Townland) v M Stokes

B5 46kg: P Downey (St John Bosco) v W Carthy

B6 70kg: TBC v D O'Driscoll

B5 50kg: J McGivern (St George's) v B McCarthy

B6 66kg: E McConnell (Larne) v E Byrne

B6 50kg: JP Hale v T Donohue

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