Boxing to return to Ulster Hall as Elite finals are moved to historic venue

The Ulster Elite Championship finals will take place at the Ulster Hall for the first time since 2011.Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

THE finals of Ulster Elite Championships are set for a return to their spiritual home at the Ulster Hall for the first time in six years.

In a serious statement of intent by the newly-elected Ulster Boxing Council, the famous Belfast venue – scene of so many of the north’s most memorable fight nights, both pro and amateur – has been booked for November 24.

Last weekend, in a second provincial election ordered by the board of directors of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), Kevin Duffy was voted in as president, replacing Paul McMahon.

However, McMahon insisted before the re-run election that, regardless of the outcome, he was “not going anywhere”, and the matter could be headed for the courts.

Ormeau Road coach Charlie Toland got the nod for the secretary’s post ahead of the long-serving Sadie Duffy and, despite any possible legal challenge, leading figures inside the new Ulster Council insist they are looking to the future.

The preliminary rounds and semi-finals of the Ulster Elites will still take place in the Dockworkers Club from November 15-16, although the possibility of making it to finals night will now be a huge incentive for fighters.

Securing the Ulster Hall would be a significant boost to a championships that has failed to capture public interest in recent years, with finals night last held there in 2011 when future two-time Olympian Michael Conlan was among those to feature on the bill.

Such a move would be well received by fight fans, many of whom recall watching future greats like Barry McGuigan, Wayne McCullough and Carl Frampton trade leather at the famous venue during the early years of their career.

And a 2017 return would be fitting considering that the Ulster elites also double as a qualifier for next April’s Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Dwindling entry levels saw just 27 compete last year but, with a team of at least 11 boxers expected to travel to the Gold Coast, there is expected to be huge interest from fighters keen to book their ticket Down Under.

Hosting the championships in November will give Ulster High Performance coach John Conlan over five months to work with his team, provided the selection process is straightforward.

It was revealed earlier this week that, following the reshuffle at the top of Ulster boxing, 2015 European Games bronze medallist Sean McComb will now enter the shake-up for the 64kg spot on Conlan’s team.

The Holy Trinity light-welter had previously stated that he wouldn’t compete in any provincial competition as long as McMahon was president but, following Duffy’s election, the three-time Irish champion has reconsidered his position.

With McComb back in the running, there will be no shortage of top quality names in the frame as the likes of Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine, European bronze medallist Kurt Walker, James McGivern, Stephen McKenna, Aidan Walsh, Conor Wallace, Tiernan Bradley, Fearghus Quinn, Caoimhin Hynes, Michaela Walsh and Kristina O’Hara are among those who will fancy their chances.

It is also understood that Rio Olympian Steven Donnelly, who was on the verge of a move to the professional ranks during the summer only for it to fall through at the last minute, could also enter the fray at middleweight.

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