Boxing

Slick southpaw James McGivern steals the show on big night at Ulster Hall

St George's southpaw James McGivern stole the show at the Ulster Hall last Friday night with a superb performance to beat Holy Trinity's tough Sean Duffy. Picture by Declan Roughan

DANNY Boyd still remembers when flyweight Paul Ireland was crowned best boxer at the 1988 Ulster Senior Championships. For a club with a reputation for success, the St George’s teenager was the latest off the production line.

Twenty-nine years on and the Markets club can boast another special talent, one who replicated Ireland’s achievements last Friday night by being named best boxer and getting his name on the famous belt.

But don’t be thinking lightweight sensation James McGivern is an overnight success – far from it.

A star in the making from a young age, the slick southpaw has accumulated titles at Ulster and Irish level right the way through the age grades - adding Commonwealth Youth gold in 2015 - and has long been earmarked for the top.

With the BBC cameras rolling at a packed Ulster Hall, the 20-year-old announced himself to the wider public in impressive fashion, delivering a performance of poise and panache to see off Sean Duffy.

The Keady man, a 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, probably started slight favourite after earlier defeats of Gerard Matthews and Stephen McKenna but McGivern was in top form and put on a masterclass.

Even former two-time world champion Carl Frampton – who was named best boxer at the 2008 Ulsters - agreed, tweeting: “Well done James. Looked the dogs mate.”

Boyd, head coach at St George’s, has been working with McGivern since he was “no age” and has always believed he had what was required to make it to the top.

“James just took to it like a duck to water from the start,” says Boyd.

“He just started winning everything right the way through. Sometimes you get ones who fall away but he just kept winning Irish titles, getting on Irish schoolboy teams.

“Every time he moved up a level, he was ready for it.”

Boyd had been at the Dockers Club the week before on a scouting mission ahead of McGivern’s showdown with Duffy.

And, having watched on as the all-action Holy Trinity man saw off Matthews and McKenna, Boyd was clear what the plan had to be to keep his man in the running for next April’s Commonwealths in Australia.

He added: “I saw Duffy’s first two fights and I was thinking ‘Jesus Christ, we needn’t stand in front of him’. Other people might’ve thought Sean was going to steamroll him but James is a smart kid and he just boxed a blinder

“A couple of years ago James got dragged into a fight in the Irish U18 final against Eamar Coughlan so I said to him this time ‘do that again and I’ll kill you’. I had him on the pads the Wednesday night before and I just knew he was up for it. I knew then he had a chance.

“It’s the biggest stage he’s ever boxed on. We were at the club before we went round to the Ulster Hall and he was looking at the picture of Paul Ireland with the Best boxer award.

“We didn’t even mention the possibility of him winning it too but he deserved it - it was a class performance.”

Not that Boyd was surprised because his charge had already proved he could mix it in elite company.

Only 19 and still new to the world of senior boxing, McGivern was handed a baptism of fire last May when he travelled to the Feliks Stamm tournament in Poland and was paired with Sofiane Oumiha in the first round.

Oumiha had been an Olympic finalist in Rio the year before, and would go on to land 60kg gold at the World Championships in August.

The Frenchman is performing at the very top of his game and, although he came out on the wrong side of a unanimous decision, McGivern was with him every step of the way.

That, more than anything, proved he could compete with the best out there – something he will hope to prove again in the Gold Coast.

“James took a good bit of confidence from that fight,” says Boyd.

“It was only his first or second senior fight, in with the number one in the world and he gave a really good account of himself.

“Now he’ll go to Australia full of belief.”

Michaela Walsh with younger brother Aidan after he returned from the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa with a gold medal. Both will be eyeing the top of the podium at next year's Commonwealth Games in Australia. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

WALSH SIBLINGS LOOKS SET TO JOIN ELITE GROUP AT COMMONWEALTHS

THERE are only a handful of brother and sister combinations who have competed side by side in the long history of the Commonwealth Games, and Aidan and Michaela Walsh look set to join that elite group next April.

At the Ulster Hall on Friday night Aidan secured the welterweight crown with victory over Brett McGinty, and the 20-year-old fancies completing a Commonwealth Games gold medal double having taken top honours at the 2015 youth games in Samoa.

Older sister Michaela didn’t get to box on the big night, picking up the 57kg title on a walkover, but is seen as another major medal contender for the Gold Coast in the Spring.

She returned from Glasgow with silver three years ago, controversially losing out in the flyweight final to England’s two-time Olympic gold medallist Nicola Adams, and is determined to go one better next time out.

Twenty-four-year-old Michaela marked her return to competitive action back in August when she landed gold at the European Union Championships in Italy.

It was an achievement made all the more impressive considering she wasn’t even included in the initial squad bound for Cascia, only to go all the away and announce herself as a major player on the international stage.

The siblings moved from the Holy Family club to Monkstown at the start of the summer, and coach Paul Johnston insists both are capable of making history Down Under.

“Absolutely, they can both go there and go the whole way. Without a doubt, no question about it – they’ve got the potential and they’ll take some stopping,” he said.

“When they came to us they were pretty much the finished article, maybe the only adjustment I’ve made have been to box more to the suit the 10-9 scoring system and make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of winning.

“But both have been fantastic since they came here, they’re very easy to work with. Aidan actually had a very bad flu and chest infection all week leading up to the final but he did enough to get the decision.

“Probably the best thing about them is how close they are – Aidan and Michaela really push each other on and bounce off each other. If one does well, the other raises their level and does the same.

“The Commonwealths was a goal of theirs, and then after that they both want to get to Tokyo 2020. That’s the one they have their hearts set on.”

IN THE IRISH NEWS THIS THURSDAY AND FRIDAY

“The thing about Belfast people is they know who can fight, and they realised right away these guys were exceptional fighters”

Don’t miss Neil Loughran’s special two-part feature on two of the men who led the foreign invasion of Eastwood’s Gym around the late 1980s – Crisanto Espana and Victor Cordoba

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