Boxing

Irish head coach Zaur Antia backs Sean McComb and Steven Donnelly to shine at European Championships

Irish head coach Zaur Antia has high hopes for the upcoming European Elite Championships, which get under way tomorrow. Picture by Hugh Russell

SOME glittering names may have departed the High Performance unit since the Rio Olympics, but Irish head coach Zaur Antia has backed two of his most experienced men to pave the way to a successful European Elite Championships.

Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes, David Oliver Joyce and Katie Taylor were among those to turn over to the paid ranks once they got back from Brazil.

And although Joe Ward is part of the Irish squad currently in Ukraine, rumours persist that the Moate light-heavy could be on the brink of a move to the pro game.

Should that materialise, flyweight Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly would be the only survivors from Rio, and both men are currently preparing for their first crack at the Europeans, which get under way tomorrow.

At just 21, Irvine has made no secret of his desire to hang around until the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but the future was less clear for Donnelly and his Irish team-mate Sean McComb.

However, both looked in rude health during a multi-nations tournament in Dublin at the end of April.

Donnelly recorded two wins from three - a controversial defeat on the final day the only blemish - while McComb completed a perfect treble by comprehensively defeating Russia’s reigning European and World champion Vitaly Dunaystev.

Twenty-four-year-old McComb moved up to light-welterweight last year, and Antia believes the Holy Trinity stylist could be about to take the 64kg division by storm.

“Sean is one of the very talented boxers – size, big heart, very agile,” said the Georgian.

“His movement is fantastic, he has the formula of boxing; show me your legs and I’ll tell you want kind of boxer you are. He’s very awkward, very difficult for opponents. He beat Russians, but he still has to work.

“He can improve to get better and better. That is what we have to do.”

Having worked with Donnelly at the Olympics, Antia knows all too well what he brings to the table.

He is also well aware of the 28-year-old’s past tendencies to drift off track, as Donnelly explained: “Zaur always says to me ‘Stevie, Stevie, you stay off Guinness. You crazy, you crazy’. But he knows the craic…”

The Ballymena man is in his best shape since Rio coming into the Europeans, and Antia says Donnelly is equipped to deal with whatever comes his way in Kharkiv.

“Steven is a very good boxer, he is universal. He can fight in orthodox, he can fight in southpaw. He has a big heart, very fast, very explosive.

“He can do very difficult things that other boxers can’t do. He can do everything.

He needs a normal life outside as well and, if that is sorted, he will be excellent.

“I worry about him outside when he’s not with me. They have to control that, but we have a very good relationship, we are very good friends, exactly what a coach and boxer should be.

“I am thinking very positive. All the team is in a good stage, and now we have to get into the best shape for the competition.”

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