Surprise selections in Irish squad bound for World Championships in Russia
THERE are some surprise selections on the Irish squad bound for AIBA’s World Elite Championships in Russia next month, with a mixture of delight and disappointment for Ulster’s elite.
Commonwealth Games silver medallist Aidan Walsh gets the nod at welterweight, Kurt Walker goes at bantamweight while Newry teenager Kane Tucker takes the light-heavyweight spot that has been filled by three-time European champion Joe Ward for most of the past decade.
However, a wrist injury means that James McGivern, from the St George's club in Belfast, misses out at 63kg, with Portlaoise’s Wayne Kelly - who was comprehensively defeated by McGivern in the Irish elites back in February - given a chance to impress in Yekaterinburg.
It is understood that all selection decisions have been reached following a period of continuous assessment at the Irish Athletic Boxing Association’s high performance unit in Abbotstown.
As a result, Regan Buckley is the only reigning Irish champion to be named on the eight-man team – and even then he has been selected at 52kg rather than light-fly, the weight class at which he won the Irish title and also picked up European Games bronze.
Considering 49kg is no longer an Olympic weight, it is no surprise that Buckley – who boxed twice as a pro in 2017 before returning to the amateur ranks – has opted to move up with an eye on Tokyo.
It was a bitter blow for Galway’s Adam Hession, who impressed en route to claiming the flyweight crown at the National Stadium.
In a post on Twitter earlier this week, he said: “I was given 1 test spar. Every other weight got at least 3. The first two weeks were meant to be assessment weeks but I got my assessment spar the morning of the third week.”
He added: “I’ll put my head down, work like a dog and win my second elite title. Then with two elite titles I might be able to box for Ireland.”
Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine is still working his way back after suffering a broken foot at the start of June and will be targeting the next national elite championships.
No dates have been officially confirmed as yet but they look likely to run from Monday, November 18-Saturday, November 23 as the Irish coaches turn their gaze towards the European Olympic qualifiers, slated for London in February.
Walker, meanwhile, didn’t enter the Irish Elites earlier this year but, after adding European Games gold to the European Union gold medal landed at the end of 2018, the Lisburn man is currently in a class of his own at bantamweight.
Walsh, meanwhile, was understandably delighted to have forced his way back into the reckoning at 69kg.
The Monkstown counter-puncher was edged out by Paddy Donovan on a split in their Irish semi-final back in February, with Donovan then losing out to Galway’s Kieran Molloy in the decider.
Loose-limbed Limerick man Donovan has since turned pro with US giants Top Rank, while Molloy bowed out to Yauheni Dauhaliavets of Belarus at the last 16 stage of the European Games.
Now Walsh is firmly back in the frame and will be keen to grab his opportunity with both hands.
The same goes for Tucker, who fought off some stiff competition from the likes of reigning light-heavy champion Thomas O’Toole and Cork’s Tommy Hyde to claim the 81 kilo spot.
Heavyweight champion Tony Browne is also believed to have dropped down to enter the mix at light-heavy, but it is Tucker who gets the nod.
Injury ruled the 19-year-old out of the last Irish elites, but he has been a regular fixture at the high performance unit, making his international bow at a tournament in the Netherlands in June.
With Ward since moved over to the paid ranks, this is a huge opportunity for Tucker to stake his claim.
Michael Nevin is selected at middleweight – current champion Gabriel Dossen is sidelined with a knee injury - while Kiril Afanasev is the heavyweight pick.
A thumb injury rules out super-heavy Dean Gardiner, with no other 91+kg fighter sent in his place.
The Irish team leave for a training camp in Germany on August 24 before heading to Russia, with the Worlds running from September 7-21.
AIBA men’s World Championships in Yekaterinburg, Russia (September 7-21)
52kg: Regan Buckley (St Teresa’s)
56kg: Kurt Walker (Canal)
63kg: Wayne Kelly (Portlaoise)
69kg: Aidan Walsh (Monkstown)
75kg: Michael Nevin (Portlaoise)
81kg: Kane Tucker (Emerald)
91kg: Kiril Afanasev (Smithfield)