'I couldn't care less who's giving off on Facebook - there might be people slabbering but I honestly don't care'

Coming out the other side of a series of setbacks dating back to April 2018, Brendan Irvine has bigger things to concern himself with than social media sniping about entries into the Irish Elite Championships. He talks to Neil Loughran...

Brendan Irvine has seen very little competitive action since returning from the Commonwealth Games in Australia with a silver medal back in April 2018. Picture by PA

IT takes a fair bit to rile Brendan Irvine but, as he drives back from training at the St Paul’s club in west Belfast, there is no disguising his annoyance.

After a year blighted by injury, first to his wrist then his foot, the 23-year-old would have plenty of reasons to feel at odds with the world, but his ire on this evening has nothing to do with the frustrating 12 months he can barely wait to see the back of.

Instead, it is the fall-out that followed the withdrawal of several stellar names – his included - from the ongoing Irish Elite Championships, despite being included on the initial entry list.

With the European Olympic qualifier taking place next March, these championships will form part of the thinking for Irish coaches selecting the team for London – but not all.

As was the case with the World Championships in September, greater weight is expected to be given to performances at in-house trials between the country’s elite operators.

This has driven an even bigger wedge between the High Performance unit in Abbotstown and the central council of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, while boxers like Irvine find themselves caught somewhere in the middle.

The Rio Olympian has seen very little competitive action since the last Commonwealth Games in April 2018, with a long-term wrist injury leaving him sidelined until earlier this year.

There was worse luck to follow when a freak accident during sparring forced him out of the European Games back in June with a broken foot, and left Irvine in an orthopaedic boot throughout the summer.

There is no doubt that the absence of some of the leading fighters in the country has left the Irish elites facing something of a credibility crisis but, after such a difficult personal journey to battle back from injury, that is the least of Irvine’s concerns.

“It’s a policy thing that you have to enter, but I’ve known for quite a while that I wasn’t going to be in the seniors.

“I’m only out of the boot about seven weeks; I had actually been out of the boot for about four weeks and then got put back into it because it just flared up again, and then I basically had to learn to walk without a limp – I’d been limping and I didn’t even realise.

“There’s nothing I wanted more than to enter the seniors, and there’s people thinking I’m sitting in the house just not entering? If I was sitting ready to go I’d be entered, 100 per cent. But what can I do? It’s totally out of my control.

“I can’t do anything if I was injured through boxing, and there’s a few of us have been injured through boxing – Kellie [Harrington] broke her thumb, big ‘Breakfast’ [Dean Gardiner] had an operation there as well.

“Ralph [McKay, St Paul’s coach] was telling me there were people giving off on Facebook… I couldn’t care less who’s giving off on Facebook. There might be people slabbering but I honestly don’t care.”

The main reason he doesn’t care is because, after all the physical and mental torment endured, Irvine finally feels in a good place as 2019 draws to a close.

For a man who has already achieved so much in his career to date - boxing at an Olympics, two World Championships and medalling at Commonwealth Games, European Championships and European Games – there was little time to stop and think in the last five years.

And it has been tougher than he could ever have imagined watching on from the other side of the ropes.

“You know what? At this point in time I’m just going to focus on myself because my head was wrecked a while ago when I was in that boot and now I’m in a good place.

“It was hard seeing the likes of Kurt there flying at the European Games; obviously I was over the moon for him, but I wanted to be there doing that myself.

“I know it was maybe unrealistic for me to think I could get back in time for the Worlds then a few months later, but that’s what was in my head after the Europeans Games was ruled out.

“Like, I was training in a boot for the World Championships. It sounds mad now when I say it, but that’s how much I wanted to get back. When I was told I wasn’t going to the Worlds, my head was wrecked, but I’m flying now thankfully.

“That’s why I’m not rushing anything for anybody. I’m walking normally again, swimming still, but I haven’t ran, I haven’t bounced, I haven’t sparred; I’ve been doing bags and pads but everything’s static – no movement.

“I’m doing my exercises and sticking to the rehab plan, I’m not doing one exercise more or less, I’m doing everything by the book to keep myself right. Things are going good, but it’s just small steps.”

Irvine will watch with interest as the flyweight competition unfolds in Dublin this week, and the next step is to get himself back down to Abbotstown. After that, he intends to give himself the best possibly chance of being in the shake-up when the action gets under way at the Copper Box Arena.

“That’s my goal, to be 100 per cent ready for March,” he said.

“It mightn’t even be me going, that’s just the way it is, but all I can do is get myself to full fitness and take it from there.”

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