Immaculata pocket rocket Caitlin Fryers targeting Youth Olympics after starring in 2017
CAITLIN Fryers was one of success stories of an otherwise forgettable 12 months for Irish boxing, and 2018 could be an even bigger year for the west Belfast schoolgirl.
The Immaculata pocket rocket landed two Irish titles but it was her exploits on the international stage that catapulted her into the consciousness of the boxing public.
Following on from the bronze medal won at 2015 European Junior Championships, Fryers returned home from last June’s European Youths in Bulgaria with a silver medal, just missing out on gold after losing to home favourite Mari Todrova.
And at the Worlds in India in November, Fryers pulled off a major upset when defeating Russia’s Karina Tuvakova en route to the semi-final.
She is set to be commended for her efforts at the upcoming Irish Athletic Boxing Association awards at Dublin’s Louis Fitzgerald Hotel on February 3, but the sights have already been adjusted for a potentially huge year ahead.
Fryers has moved up from light-fly to flyweight for the Irish U18 Championships – she faces Baldoyle’s Megan Coleman in the 51kg quarter-final on Friday – as that is a qualification weight for the Youth Olympic Games in October.
There is a long road ahead before she gets anywhere near that competition in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, but coach Kate Meli believes the 18-year-old is on an upward curve.
“I’m not really surprised by the success she had last year because she has a right smart head on her, she knows what she’s going to do,” said the Immaculata coach.
“She will make it work for herself. If she has to train harder, she will train before going to school, then after school she’d have come and trained with us.
“Caitlin was happy with what she achieved, but if she gets beat she wants to work on it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. She’s a very quiet wee girl but she’s determined and she wants to do well.”
Former pro boxer and Irish amateur talent James Fryers is a cousin of Caitlin’s, so boxing has long been in the blood.
James won seven national titles and was very highly-rated before switching to the paid ranks and, according to Caitlin’s father Sean, she followed his career closely.
“My son Sean is a year older than Caitlin and she followed him into boxing at the Mac when she was about nine - from then on she would have taken an interest in what James was doing, going to his fights and that,” he said.
“Women’s boxing wasn’t maybe just as popular here as it was then, but it’s on the crest of a wave now, and Caitlin just lives for sport.
“She plays Gaelic football for Gort na Mona, and her whole week is just built around sport and school, where she’s doing an A-level in PE. Last year was a big one for her, she did really well.”
Fryers must first negotiate European and World Championships to be in with a shout of making it to Argentina, but first up is the national U18s.
“If she wins this then hopefully move on,” added Meli.
“It could be a big year for Caitlin, that’s the aim, and the Youth Olympics would be the ultimate goal at this stage.
“She’s only 18, and in boxing you always have to improve. You can’t just stay at one level.”
Other Ulster fighters in action in the U18 Championships this weekend include Holy Trinity’s Shannon McKenna, also boxing in the 51kg category, while talented Two Castles light-fly Jude Gallagher is up against Monivea’s Adam Hession.
In the U22 Championships, Old School lightweight Terry McEntee faces Ballina’s Francis Cleary, Dungloe light-welter Matthew McCole takes on Castlebar’s Aaron Daly, and Holy Family, Drogheda light-heavy Conor Wallace is down to box Ballinacarrow’s Jason Clancy.
The fight of the night, however, is likely to come at 75kg when St Michael’s, Athy talent John Joyce goes toe-to-toe with rising star Gabriel Dossen, from the Olympic club in Galway.
WALKER BACK PUNCHING AFTER RECOVERING FROM THUMB INJURY
TWO months on from sustaining the broken thumb that kept him out of the Ulster Elite Championships, Kurt Walker is back on the bag and building towards the Commonwealth Games.
The 22-year-old picked up the injury when sparring fellow Team NI member Brendan Irvine at the start of November, and was forced to watch from outside the ropes as the Ulster Elites return to the Ulster Hall for the first time in six years.
There had been some talk of a possible box-off at bantamweight, after Eamon McNally took the 56kg title, but European bronze medallist Walker was named in the 13-strong squad bound for the Gold Coast.
And the Canal counter-puncher insists his hand feels good as new.
“It’s brilliant, I’ve no pain or anything any more,” said Walker yesterday.
“I’ve just started back punching, we’re doing a bag session today so we’ll see how it goes. I’ve being doing pads in the club, going very lightly. I need to just keep the hand wrapped up, keep it well supported and I should be grand.
“I got the cast off the week before Christmas, I was getting advice from a specialist the whole time so I just had to take it slow.
“It was frustrating not being able to fight at the Ulster Hall but that stuff happens. At least I’m here now, thankfully it’s worked out well for me.
The Commonwealth team was at the Mary Peters track in Belfast yesterday morning, and will be based in Jordanstown Monday to Friday from now until they head Down Under on March 15.
Last week they headed to Newcastle, Co Down for some team bonding – “I was the best on the climbing wall, and that’s a fact” - before officially entering camp.
It remains to be seen how many - if any - of the boxers on the team enter the Irish Elite Championships, which get under way on February 9, with finals night on February 23.
The boxers will have the final say, and three-time Irish champion Walker admits he is in two minds about what to do.
“I don’t know… more than likely not,” he said.
“There’s no point getting to your peak to fight in them and then going to Australia two weeks later, back down to where you started.
“I’ll see what my weight is like; you never know what could happen. There’s still part of me that wouldn’t want someone else to win it.”