Boxing

Four box-offs to cement final spots on Northern Ireland team for Commonwealth Youth Games

Newry middleweight Kane Tucker is bound for the Bahamas after being nominated for the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Youth Games squad
Neil Loughran

THERE will be four box-offs in Dublin this weekend to decide the final places on the Northern Ireland team that heads to this summer’s Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.

Following a rigorous training and testing schedule conducted by Ulster High Performance coach John Conlan at Jordanstown, Holy Trinity pair Kian Bittles and Kane Tucker have laid claim to the fly and middleweight places respectively.

However, box-offs have been ordered to decide who is nominated for the light-fly, lightweight, light-welter and welterweight spots.

There are three in the mix at 49kg, with John Moran (Illies GG) and Liam Glennon (St Joseph’s, Derry) facing off in a north-west battle on Saturday for the right to fight Phoenix’s Diarmuid Toland on Sunday.

Perhaps the pick of the box-offs could be the 60kg showdown between Callum Bradley (Sacred Heart, Omagh) and Dominic Bradley (Errigal).

Another potential cracker awaits at 64kg, where Old School’s Aaron McKenna – a recent gold medal winner at the prestigious Nikolay Pavlyukov tournament in Russia – comes up against Edgar Vuskans (Glengormley).

Vuskans was part of the Ulster High Performance team that spent a week training in Germany recently, and is very highly-regarded.

Seventeen-year-old McKenna, meanwhile, is a veteran of almost 200 amateur contests and was last year linked with a possible move into the professional ranks, with leading American promoters Golden Boy and Top Rank understood to be among his suitors.

The final box-off, at 69kg, pits Gleann’s Anthony Johnson – a European junior bronze medallist two years ago – against Michael Hennessy from the St Monica’s club in Newry.

All four contests will take place at the National Stadium as part of a bumper weekend for Irish boxing, with a round robin multi-nations tournament featuring the cream of the crop from Ireland, Russia, France and Italy getting under way tomorrow.

Upon completion of the box-offs, the names of those put forward by Conlan and ratified by the Ulster Boxing Council will be submitted to the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council for consideration.

If approved, that would mean Northern Ireland would send a boxing team of six to the Bahamas for the Youth Games, which take place from July 19-23.

That would be one more than travelled to Samoa for the 2015 Games, when the five-strong team returned with three gold medals courtesy of Stephen McKenna (brother of Aaron), James McGivern and Aidan Walsh, and silvers from Tiernan Bradley and Brett McGinty.

But Ulster Council president Paul McMahon is hopeful that, considering the success achieved two years ago, boxing has proved it merits an extra place.

He said: “A presentation was made to the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council and we’re hopeful we can get the six.”

The provincial body was also keen to avoid some of the negative headlines that followed the controversial decision not to select Lewis Crocker for Samoa.

Despite the heavy-hitter being nominated by Conlan, the Ulster Council overruled that decision and opted to send McGinty instead as the welterweight pick.

A media storm followed, with even former world champion Carl Frampton tweeting his support for Crocker, and McMahon admits that lessons have been learned from that episode.

He said: “The Ulster Council, John Conlan and Clare McAuley (Irish Athletic Boxing Association operations manager) all worked closely on the nomination criteria, and we’re fully supportive of John and the process that arrived at this decision.

“It was spoken about a long time out, there was a far better buy-in from everybody, everybody knew after what happened last time that it didn’t look very good in the wider public arena.

“So this time it was about protecting boxing, and protecting the reputation of Ulster boxing.”

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