Boxing

Ambitious brothers Kane and Jake Tucker ready to shine for Ireland on big stage

Jake (left) and Kane Tucker prepare for a training session at Emerald boxing club in west Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

THE Tucker house in Banbridge will be a much quieter place over the course of the next month, with boxing brothers Kane and Jake both preparing to mix it on the international stage for Ireland.

Nineteen-year-old Kane has been named on the seven-man team bound for the World Elite Championships in Russia next month (September 7-21), while Jake is the men’s middleweight pick on a 19-strong Irish team headed for the European Youths in Bulgaria (September 4-11).

With the 81 kilo division blown wide open by Joe Ward’s decision to turn pro, it is a huge opportunity for Kane – given the nod after weeks of impressive performances at the high performance unit in Abbotstown - to prove that he belongs at this level.

And on Sunday he jets off with the rest of the team for a training camp at the German Olympic Centre in Kienbaum which will also include the host nation, Cuba and two Thai squads.

“From the assessments, I think the only one they could’ve really chosen was me,” said Tucker ahead of a training session at the Emerald boxing club in west Belfast yesterday.

“I performed consistently well. At the start it was me, Thomas O’Toole, Paul McCullagh and Tommy Hyde, but Thomas O’Toole and Paul McCullagh got injured and then two more were added – Emmett Brennan coming up from 75, and Tony Browne down from 91.

“There was plenty of assessments, it wasn’t just decided over a couple of days, it was done over six weeks. I performed well and felt I did everything I could, and hopefully the right decision was made.”

Tucker has fought four times as a senior, but it was his last outing which convinced him he was ready to make the step up at international level.

Pitched in against Peter Mullenberg, a Rio Olympian who now campaigns at 91kg, Tucker dropped the Dutch veteran heavily in the second round.

The fight took place in Rotterdam so, while there was a certain inevitability that Mullenberg’s hand would be raised, Tucker came away full of belief.

He said: “I was happy enough with that fight – I was using that as a test to show me whether I was ready or not, and I think I am. I’ve no fears going out here.

“It’s not a qualifier [for the Olympics] but it’s good to be in the loop to be chosen. If I’m chosen for that, it puts me in the top spot and puts the pressure on the other ones to perform better.

“You always hear about 19, 20-year-olds coming into the Worlds and winning big medals because no-one really knows them and they’re underestimated. Hopefully I can do the same.”

Coach Harry Hawkins has been around long enough to know the risk of moving too fast, especially at the heavier weights, but insists Kane has done everything asked of him to merit his international call-up.

“He’s 19, he could be drawn against a 30-year-old Russian. The ones in the high performance are very aware of that, but Joe Ward’s now gone, so who are they going to invest in?

“The effort he’s been putting in here, he’s totally dedicated and he listens to everything you say. I’m really delighted for him.

“The experience he’ll gain from this training camp will be brilliant, and brilliant preparation for the elites coming up [in November].”

Even in Ward’s absence, there is no shortage of light-heavyweight talent in Ireland at the minute – and it mightn’t be too long until Jake Tucker adds his name to that list.

Eighteen months younger than Kane, the 17-year-old is still filling into his 6’3 frame and it is only a matter of time until he moves up too.

With both setting their sights on 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2024 Olympic Games qualification, there are some interesting times ahead.

However, like the Klitschko brothers who dominated the world heavyweight boxing scene for over a decade, there is no chance of ever seeing the Tucker brothers share a ring in a competitive bout.

“I don’t think our da will let us,” smiles the younger sibling.

“Jake’s not finished growing - he’s 18 next week but there’s probably another burst of growth in him too,” adds Hawkins.

“It’s a crucial age for them and you have to be careful not to push ahead too quick. Kane’s settling in at his weight and age now where Jake has a lot more growth in him and you wouldn’t want to move him up to 81 too quick.”

For now, Jake’s focus is fully on cracking the European code at middleweight, and he will attend a sparring camp in Waterford before boxing gets under way in Bulgaria on September 4.

To further his boxing education the 17-year-old spent six months at the famous Salisbury boxing club in Liverpool earlier this year and, after landing the Irish U18 crown, is determined to keep performing in order to maintain his own elite ambitions.

“It was important for me to get away to the Europeans to stay on the high performance so I can keep myself with all the top boxers in Ireland and progress to what the likes of Kane’s doing.

“Being at the Solly really got me prepared for the Irish; I felt like I was boxing the best I’ve boxed in a good few years. I was training along with loads of different pros, in sparring camps with pros, so it did me a lot of good.

“The two other times I’ve gone to European championships I’ve lost on split decisions, which is very frustrating. So definitely this time I’m looking to bring home a medal.”

“They drive each other on,” adds Hawkins as he watches them prepare for a technical sparring session.

“I see it especially in Jake. He sees Kane going to the Worlds and he wants to achieve that too. These are lads that have consistently won Irish titles all the way along, and they push each other on.

“Jake wants to achieve everything Kane has. Both of them have the potential to go really far.”

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