Blaine Dobbins dreams of making it to top of the tree after playing waiting game

Blaine Dobbins (right) has shared a ring with the likes of Ryan Burnett and Paddy Barnes, but believes now is his time to shine on the Irish stage
Neil Loughran

REACHING finals night at the Irish Elite Championships meant more to Blaine Dobbins than anybody else who had their hand raised at Dublin’s National Stadium last weekend.

Normally such a statement could cause rancour among other fighters who have shed blood, sweat and tears over the last number of months, but the St Joseph’s, Derry light-fly has had to wait longer than anybody else for his moment in the sun.

Three years ago, the last time he walked through the doors of the stadium, Dobbins finished up second best against Paddy Barnes at the semi-final stage.

Indeed, for as long as he cares to remember, Dobbins has been caught in the slipstream of the two-time Olympic medallist.

Unable to catch a break, the gateway to the High Performance unit and the chance to earn a prized green vest was permanently sealed as Barnes remained streets ahead of any other 49 kilo fighter in the country.

But with the Holy Family fighter turning over to the professional game, the door has creaked open - and Dobbins is determined not to miss his opportunity to burst through.

“Realistically, because Paddy was always number one, an Olympian, I could never get moving because of him. It was a bit disheartening,” said the 25-year-old, who beat Connor Jordan from St Aidan’s in the last four.

“Sharing a ring with somebody like Paddy Barnes, it gives you confidence because you’re up against one of the best and you’re at that level.

“Now he’s away to the pros, and I’d like to wish him all the best with his career by the way, it’s wide open and they’re crying out badly for a light-fly.

“I’m over the moon [to reach the final], it means a lot to me and to my club. We’ve just got a brand new club and for me to be in the senior final is a big achievement for them as well. I just think that it happens sooner for some people and later for others, and now it’s just my time.

“I reckon I have what it takes to be next in line. I’m experienced, I’m strong at the weight and I want to be number one, 100 per cent.”

Standing in his way is north-west rival Darryl Moran. The Illies Golden Gloves fighter landed the national U22 title last month and is a man on-form heading into Friday’s showdown.

Moran is part of the Irish squad that will head for Romania next month for the European U22 Championships and Dobbins wants to make sure he isn’t left behind again.

“Darryl doesn’t live too far away from me, he’s a good lad too but if I perform there’s no way he can beat me,” continued Dobbins, who beat TJ Waite to win the 2014 Ulster title.

“I’ve done rounds with him before, but you can’t read too much into that. Fighting’s different, it just depends who shows up on the night.

“But I know that if I win, that sets me up rightly for the Irish team then and, fingers crossed, I’d get called into the High Performance and start boxing on the international stage. That’s always been my dream, to box for my country - that was always my big ambition.

“It’s starting to feel a bit more realistic now.”

And yet it could have been so different. Dobbins only ended up joining a boxing club in a bid to bulk up for a promising soccer career but, once he laced up gloves for the first time, there was no going back.

“I went to Northern Ireland schoolboy trials, I think I must have been about 12, and the coach told my father ‘he’s brilliant, he’s talented but he’s too light, you need to build him up’.

“So my father took me to the boxing club and that was that. I never went back to football.”

Kurt Walker is determined to make it three Irish bantamweight titles in-a-row when he faces Stephen McKenna on Friday night


KURT Walker has vowed to come up trumps in Friday’s all-Ulster bantamweight final against Smithboro slickster Stephen McKenna.

With Michael Conlan off the scene after hooking up with top American promoters Top Rank, all eyes are looking towards next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia and, more importantly, the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Despite winning the last two Irish titles at 56kg, Canal’s Walker only now finds himself in a position to emerge from Conlan’s shadow.

The 21-year-old has bided his time, watching as Conlan was picked for international competition time and again while he was left to kick his heels.

This is his time, he feels. The only problem is that McKenna has the same sense, declaring in these pages a fortnight ago “I’m the man to replace Michael Conlan”.

“He can say what he wants, can’t he?” smiles Walker.

“I’m just going to go in and do what I do usually and it should work. I haven’t lost a round in the seniors in the last three years – not one round. I know if I perform to even 70 per cent I should win.

“I’m too strong, too slick, I’m too quick in every department.”

Old School fighter McKenna won the Irish elites at 49kg last year but, after a growth spurt, the 19-year-old has jumped up to bantam for this year’s competition.

A Commonwealth Youth Games gold medallist who is devoted to boxing, he doesn’t lack for confidence. Constantly travelling to find new sparring partners with different styles, he and Walker did a few rounds before Christmas – not that the Lisburn man is reading too much into it.

“I was really heavy, I wouldn’t have been on my toes or anything, I was just mooching about the ring like a slob,” he continued.

“But I’ll just take it one step at a time. I’ve had a great 10 week camp, training twice a day, sparring with Sean McComb and doing a bit of work with Joe Fitzpatrick as well.

“Sean’s very, very hard to hit, long arms. He’s bigger now so it’s even harder but it’s the best sparring for me because it just gets the timing perfect – my timing has improved big time since sparring him.

“I always have a plan then when I go in but I always change and go back to what I usually do. I’ve learnt I need to just worry about me and not about my opponents because my style’s too weird for them.

“I’m too awkward, it’s not me who should be worried. I just need to stick to what I do because that’s how I win all my fights.”

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