'Anybody who knows me will know, compared to where I was, what I went through behind the scenes… it's all worth it now'
THE night of February 16, 2019 now feels like an awfully long time away for Aidan Walsh. Then, he walked from the National Stadium unsure what the future held after coming out the wrong end of a nip and tuck semi-final with Paddy Donovan.
Last Friday night, he made the same walk out of the famous old stadium, this time with the welterweight winners’ trophy and his champion’s certificate tucked under his arm.
His final victory was made all the more sweet by sister Michaela’s ninth Irish elite title less than two hours earlier.
This was Aidan’s first, his first Irish crown at any level since he was 14, while the siblings became the first boxing brother and sister to land national elite titles on the same night.
It was an occasion the proud west Belfast family won’t forget in a hurry.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m lost for words a wee bit, it just means so much to me. It’s hard, like…” said the 23-year-old, emotions still running high after his classy display against Cork’s Callum Walsh.
It has been a long road for the Commonwealth Games silver medallist since last February, but the fact he stands here now, at the top of the 69 kilo pile, is a testament to his spirit and dedication.
Lesser men might have fallen away from the scene, leaving Donovan and Kieran Molloy to battle it out for the welterweight spot, but Walsh used that pain as fuel to force his way back into the reckoning.
There were plenty who questioned his selection ahead of Molloy for the World Elite Championships last September. However, having accounted for the 2019 Irish champion en route to this success, it would be hard to question Walsh now.
“Anybody who knows me will know, compared to where I was, what I went through behind the scenes… it’s all worth it now.
“I busted my balls. When I was beat, I still went down to Dublin every week – from the week after the Donovan fight I’ve been in Dublin every week, up to the World Championships.
“I went to all the tournaments I was meant to go on, absolutely everything, and without the support of my family and my sponsors, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
After winning his first bout at the Worlds, Walsh ran into old foe Pat McCormack.
The experienced Sunderland man was too strong when the pair met in the Commonwealth Games final 17 months earlier, but was pushed to the very limit in Yekaterinburg, with many believing the Belfast boy could and should have got the nod.
Walsh isn’t one to dwell on defeats, but insists there are always lessons to learned from facing such top class opposition.
“You have to be able to do different things against different opponents,” he said of McCormack, who finished up with silver in Russia.
“Obviously it depends on the type of opponent – Pat McCormack is a completely different opponent to what my fights were here. Not so much levels, but different styles make different fights and you have to adapt to each fight and that’s what I’m doing.
“If I have to mix it I’ll mix it, but if I don’t need to I’ll not need to. The main thing is I’m injury-free, I don’t have any cuts, any bruises, any niggles. I’ll be straight back to training on Monday morning.”
And as he steps up his training heading towards a potentially huge 2020, there is only one thing on Aidan Walsh’s mind – making sure he is at the Olympic qualifiers in London next March.
“My dream is the Olympic Games and nothing will stop me getting to the Olympic Games,” he said.
“I said this even when Donovan beat me, that nothing would stop me going to the Olympics, and it won’t. It honestly won’t.
“That’s not being over-confident or big-headed, I’m just so grateful to the people around me who helped me to be here.
“This is only a stepping stone - obviously I want to come back and retain this next year but, for now, it’s the Olympic Games. That’s my main focus. In my mind, I’m already at the Olympic Games.
“Every day I’m at the Olympic Games – this is me in the Olympic Village now! That’s the way you have to think, this is the way your mind has to be. You don’t want it, you have it.”
I always knew Gallagher had tools to reach the top says Eric Donovan
AS a former world level amateur himself, Eric Donovan knows a talent when he sees one – and he fancied Jude Gallagher to go right to the top the first time he laid eyes on him.
Donovan, a European bronze medallist who boxed in the World Series of Boxing before turning pro three years ago, was in Gallagher’s corner as he landed an Irish elite title at the first time of asking last Friday night.
The Two Castles teenager defeated Sean Kavanagh (recently-crowned Irish senior champion), Adam Hession (defending Irish elite champion) and European Games bronze medallist Regan Buckley to land the flyweight title.
And Donovan insists he always saw “something very special” in Gallagher.
“He was only Boy 1 when I first started to train with him, but I’ve been friends with his club and his family for the last seven or eight years,” said the 34-year-old Athy man, now an 11-0 pro.
“I did say to him, you remember coming up here as a kid watching all your older role models - now the platform is yours. Go out and enjoy it.
“He’s earned the right to be here, he’s worked hard to be here and he went out there and he proved it to everybody.”
The 18-year-old outworked the experienced Buckley at the National Stadium, with a series of punishing body shots taking their toll on the Bray pocket rocket.
And Donovan admitted the tactical battle was always going to be key.
He said: “Regan Buckley is a very gifted technical boxer, we had to get the tactics spot on and, fair play to Jude, he’s been an absolute joy to work with over the last two or three months.
“Anything I’ve asked him, he’s done. His attitude is just phenomenal. He’s also world-class himself, won a world bronze in the youths, but it’s always hard to know whether they can make the transition from youth to elite. It’s a big jump, but he did it.
“Jude is a huge flyweight, he has to sacrifice an awful lot and be meticulous with his diet, and he did it to the letter of the law.
“He made the transition into elite boxing and he was just exceptional all week, one of the best boxers of the championships in my opinion.”
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