Big decision lies ahead for big-name boxers bound for Commonwealth Games
SOME of the leading boxers in the country will have a big decision to make next month, as the Irish Elite Championships comes right in the middle of preparations for April’s Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, Sean McComb and Kristina O’Hara - all reigning Irish champions - were last week named in the squad bound for the Gold Coast, but it remains to be seen whether they will defend their titles in Dublin.
Steven Donnelly and Michaela Walsh are both former Irish champions and would also be strongly fancied if they were to enter the national elites, which begin on February 9.
However, with the Northern Ireland boxing team heading Down Under at the end of March, athletes must decide whether they are prepared to take the risk of picking up an injury, and possibly costing themselves a place at the Commonwealths.
Ulster Council president Kevin Duffy said it was “a choice for each individual to make”.
In terms of preparation for Australia, the hard yards start now – or tomorrow to be exact as the team heads to Newcastle, Co Down for some strength and conditioning work.
Coach John Conlan has a detailed plan in place for the lead-up to the Games as Team NI look to better the nine medals won in Glasgow.
It is a tall order considering the likes of Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, who both won gold four years ago, have since switched to the pro ranks. But, as anybody who saw Ulster Elite finals night will agree, there is no shortage of talent on the scene at the minute.
James McGivern picked up the coveted Best Boxer award that night and will be a force to be reckoned with at 60kg, while highly-rated light-heavyweight Conor Wallace has had his sights set on the Commonwealths for the past year.
O’Hara, Carly McNaul and Aidan Walsh will all come in confident of showing what they can do on the big stage, while Irvine, Walker, Donnelly, Michaela Walsh, Alanna Nihell and McComb bring plenty of international experience at senior level.
“We’ve a very strong team, male and female,” said Duffy.
“We have three who medalled at the last Commonwealth Games – Steven Donnelly, Michaela Walsh and Alanna Nihell – so obviously they have that experience and are going back to try and change the colour of those medals.
“You’ve guys like Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker and Sean McComb who are all young but have lots of international experience. Sean felt very disappointed not to get to the Commonwealths last time, and it’s a major opportunity for him to compete at a championships he hasn’t boxed at.”
Heavyweight Damian Sullivan and super-heavy Stephen McMonagle may not have the same profile as some of the other members of the team but, as Duffy points out, the Commonwealths Games always throws up its fair share of surprises.
He added: “You saw the likes of Jim Webb in 1994 who went and won gold - sometimes it’s the people you don’t expect who can come out and make a name for themselves, and Jim Webb ended up being the star of the show in Canada.
“They will all have their own targets and their own goals, and we’re absolutely delighted to have got the 13 places, which makes us the biggest in terms of representation.
“Boxing has been the most successful sport, it has produced the goods and brought back the medals. Boxing has the track record of success. We did it in Glasgow too, but this is a bigger team and it’s a massive opportunity for all the athletes.”
VETERAN COACH STOREY GETS A BUZZ FROM TALENTED TUCKER BROTHERS
FROM Hugh Russell to Carl Frampton, Gerry Hamill to Paddy Barnes, Barry McGuigan to Ryan Burnett and plenty more besides, Gerry Storey knows a top talent when he sees one after over 60 years in the fight game.
But, even at 81 years young, he still gets excited when he sees a kid come through the doors with huge potential – and the Tucker brothers from Banbridge have the veteran Holy Family coach buzzing.
Alongside Seamus McCann and son Gerry jr, Storey has been working with Kane (17) and Jake (16) for the past couple of months.
And Kane is hoping to add to his burgeoning reputation at the Irish U18 Championships - which get under way in Dublin this weekend - ahead of a potentially huge year for the powerful middleweight.
The European and World youth championships take place in April and August respectively, and Tucker – who won silver at the Commonwealth Youth Games last summer – is keen to make it onto the Irish squad.
Looking further down the line, the Youth Olympics are in Argentina in October. Former Holy Family star Burnett, who now holds two world titles, won gold at the 2010 Youth Olympics, and Tucker would love to follow suit.
Storey is taking things one step at a time, starting with the U18s this weekend, but he believes the brothers have the potential to go to right to the top.
“They’re two great prospects, there’s no doubt about that. They could go all the way,” he said.
“I get a real buzz off working with the nine or 10-year-olds coming into the gym, seeing them improve. And the same applies to the likes of the Tucker boys – that’s where I get my satisfaction.
“The Olympic dream will be their dream, that’s their target, and it’s the target for everybody who comes into the club.
“They’re always adding on to what they’ve got, and the two of them are very keen to do that. If they keep doing that, they’ll be very hard to stop.
“And I’ll be there to help them along the way.”