Brendan Irvine: Experienced figure needed to assist Zaur Antia in High Performance director role

Brendan Irvine won his third Irish elite title in-a-row when he defeated Thomas McCarthy in Dublin last Friday night
Neil Loughran

THREE-TIME Irish elite champion Brendan Irvine believes the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) needs to look for an experienced figure as they bid to enlist a new High Performance director.

Billy Walsh was fulfilling aspects of that role as well as acting as head coach before his acrimonious departure for America in the autumn of 2015, and yesterday was the closing date for applications for the director’s post.

Towards the end of 2016 Zaur Antia, who served as interim head coach at the Rio Olympics, was handed the job on a full-time basis.

This was significant considering he had been the subject of lucrative offers from the likes of Azerbaijan, Canada and Saudi Arabia but it is was always expected that Antia would require further assistance.

Walsh was still in charge of the High Performance unit when Irvine burst on to the scene in early 2015, and the Belfast flyweight feels it is imperative that IABA make the right appointment in the coming months.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said.

“Obviously with Zaur there’s a bit of a language barrier too. Someone that knows the game very well and has been to all those competitions would be good for that role.

“Think of the weeks throughout the year – he has to plan them, he has to take them, go away in between that. There’s so much involved in that.”

Irvine was speaking after completing a hat-trick of Irish elite titles last Friday night when he defeated the up-and-coming Thomas McCarthy.

A few alterations to the running order at Dublin’s National Stadium meant Irvine and McCarthy didn’t actually step between the ropes until almost 10.30pm and, although he got the win, playing the waiting game wasn’t easy.

He added: “I was sitting in the changing room from about half six so it was a bit mental.

“I felt a bit flat going into the fight to be honest, a bit drained from sitting in the changing room doing nothing. It was hard, and you couldn’t even go out and watch any of the fights because the heat would’ve ruined you. It was roasting.”

And if the heat inside the stadium was too much to handle, Irvine has become used to having the temperature turned up by opponents when he walks through the doors of the Circular Road venue.

Despite being just 20, the St Paul’s stylist knows his is a prized scalp. Having become an Olympian at such a tender age, everybody at 52kg wants to be the man to beat Irvine.

Nobody has managed it yet, but he has noticed the pressure being cranked up a notch.

“When I was in my first seniors nobody really knew who I was, now people know who I am,” he said.

“That young fella [McCarthy] obviously knew who I was and he was only 18, same as I was when I first entered, so the roles were reversed a bit.

“There was no pressure on him, he was just coming to give it a go. If he beats me, he’d be loving it, he’d be the talk of the place.

“The pressure was on me I suppose, but you just get used to it. Fighting in front of a couple of hundred people in Dublin, it’s not too bad whereas at the Olympics you’re fighting in front of thousands, the place is packed – it’s completely different.

“It’s the world’s biggest stage, bright lights, everybody screaming, so coming back to fighting in Dublin, you’re more ready for it.

“And you always have to remember that, although there’s no Olympics, this is a huge year for me with the European championships and the Worlds if I qualify.”

Ulster High Performance coach John Conlan will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming Commonwealth Youth Games competition


A COMPETITION is to be held next week to look at possible candidates for this summer’s Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.

Clubs across Ulster have been invited to enter fighters at eight different weights for men (49kg, 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 64kg, 69kg, 75kg, 81kg) and three for women (51kg, 60kg, 75kg).

Preliminary rounds take place at Belfast’s Dockworkers Club on Monday, February 27 and Tuesday, February 28, with the semi-finals the following night and the finals on Friday, March 3.

When the competition was initially arranged it was understood that the Commonwealth Youth Games were open to boxers born between July 20 1999 and July 19 2001, however the goalposts have since shifted – potentially opening the door for more fighters to put themselves in the frame down the line.

According to world governing body AIBA the games are open to boxers born between the start of 1999 and the end of 2000 only.

Although the upcoming competition will be used to inform selection for the Bahamas, it will not be the only means used to pick the team.

Ulster High Performance coach John Conlan will be keeping a close watch on proceedings at the Dockers as he looks ahead to the summer games, which take place from July 18-23.

At the 2015 Commonwealth Youths, Northern Ireland brought a five-strong team to Samoa and, though it has yet to be confirmed, the same number is expected to be sent this time around.

On that occasion they returned with three gold medals (Stephen McKenna, James McGivern and Aidan Walsh) and two silver (Tiernan Bradley and Brett McGinty), and were widely praised for their performance Down Under.

The inclusion of three female weights for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Youth Games could have an impact on the make-up of the 2017 team.

There was controversy in the build-up to the 2015 games when McGinty was chosen by the Ulster Council ahead of Holy Trinity’s Lewis Crocker, who has since turned over to the professional ranks.

Coach Conlan had selected Crocker in his original squad but that was overturned by the provincial body, and Ulster Council president Paul McMahon hopes the likes of the upcoming competition will help avoid a similar situation arising.

He said: “After the debacle last time where we were accused of not sending the right people, we’re trying to be as open and transparent as possible.

“If you enter this competition and do well, you’re not on the plane but you’ll have set yourself as the person to beat.”

Weigh-ins will take place this Sunday morning at St Agnes’s, Belfast, Ring in Derry and Omagh Boys and Girls boxing club, with the draw taking place afterwards.

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