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Conor Wallace focused on Commonwealth Games after finding Joe Ward roadblock in the way

Conor Wallace at the weigh-in before his Saturday night fight against American number one Alejandro Wagner
Neil Loughran

ANOTHER one of the most highly-regarded young boxers in the country has decided to take time away from the Irish High Performance unit because of a lack of funding for emerging fighters.

Already in recent months former World junior champion Willie O’Donoghue and 2014 Youth Olympic silver medallist Michael Gallagher are understood to have opted out of the Irish set-up.

And now 2015 Irish Elite finalist Conor Wallace has admitted “it doesn’t pay me to go to Dublin” as he takes a step back from the High Performance unit, despite being very highly-rated by head coach Zaur Antia.

Following the disappointment of last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, when a star-studded Irish team returned home empty-handed, Sport Ireland cut the Irish Athletic Boxing Association’s funding from €900,000 to €700,000.

As it stands, there are only five funded athletes in the whole High Performance unit – Brendan Irvine, Steven Donnelly, Kelly Harrington (all €20,000) and Christina Desmond (€12,000), with Joe Ward the only boxer to receive the 'podium' level grant of €40,000.

It is not yet known whether the €20,000 allocated to David Oliver Joyce – who has since turned pro – has been redistributed.

Pre-Rio, 14 fighters were funded and Newry banger Conor Wallace admits he has turned his focus to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia after resisting calls to return to Dublin for training.

“They were looking me back down but there’s no point me going to Dublin,” said Wallace, who now boxes out of the Holy Family club in Drogheda.

“It doesn’t pay me to go to Dublin – I have my own personal training business at home, I can train full-time at home and get wages. If I go to Dublin, it actually costs me money.”

Wallace has more than the financial repercussions to consider, however.

The 21-year-old has recently moved up from middleweight to light-heavyweight – “I can’t physically get down to 75 kilos any more” – and has found a significant roadblock in his way.

2015 World silver medallist Ward has long been linked with a move into the paid ranks, and speculation has escalated in recent weeks.

However, he remains the Irish number one at 81kg and is preparing to travel to Ukraine for next month’s European Championships – leaving Wallace out in the cold.

“There’s no point in me going to Dublin if it’s not going anywhere,” he continued.

“What I’m focused on now is the Commonwealth Games. I’m not focused on anything to do with Ireland because it’s all sewn up. Until Joe Ward goes pro, there’s no point in me going to Dublin.

“Until that happens I’m just going to keep myself fit and once he goes pro, I’m ready.”

After seven months out of action following eye and hand injuries, Wallace made his long-awaited return to the ring in Belfast on Saturday night.

The tall southpaw was fighting in the Bridges Beyond Boxing show at a packed Devenish Complex, when a talented Irish select took on a team from the renowned American fight city, Detroit.

Wallace was probably hoping for an easier return to action though, as he found himself pitted against the number one ranked American and World number six Alejandro Wagner.

Eighteen-year-old Wagner is a Youth Olympic silver medallist, and made Wallace work for every second of the three rounds they shared they ring before the Newry man secured a unanimous win.

“It was a tough scrap, I’ll tell you that. I feel like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer today,” he admitted.

“He just kept coming forward – I hit him with everything I had and he kept coming. I was catching him on the way in, caught him with a couple of very solid left hands and I swear to God… a lot of people couldn’t take them but he took them.

“He was the toughest person I’ve fought in my whole life. I’ve hit people with lighter shots and they’ve dropped. It wasn’t the easiest fight to have after seven months off, but that’s the way it goes.

“Overall, it was one of the best boxing shows I was ever at it in my life, because there were a lot of close fights. The place was packed out, and all the boys had a lot of support. It was brilliant.”

To support the cross-community Bridges Beyond Boxing venture, visit www.gofundme.com/team-detroit-to-belfast


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