Marime holding on to Olympic hopes as African qualifiers near

Former world middleweight champion Darren Barker with Paddy Fitzsimons outside the Dockers club on Friday night. Picture: Matt Bohill
Former world middleweight champion Darren Barker with Paddy Fitzsimons outside the Dockers club on Friday night. Picture: Matt Bohill

SOME of Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls are in the final stages of preparation for next month’s European qualifiers in Turkey – and Bernaldo Marime is hoping to join them in Rio via a completely different route.

The Holy Trinity fighter lost to light-welterweight champion Dean Walsh after a three round war at the Irish Elite Championships last November.

Marime would love to have represented Ireland at the Olympics but, as one door closes, another opens.

Born in Mozambique before moving to the county Tyrone town Coalisland at the age of 12, Marime represented the country of his birth at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

He hopes to do the same again in Brazil this summer, and has been in Mozambique for the past week preparing for the African qualifiers, which start in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde on Friday, and run until March 20.

Marime will have his work cut out as a record number of 272 boxers from 39 countries have registered for the event, but his coach Harry Hawkins has total faith in his fighter.

“He’s been up with me since before Christmas, so he’s staying in Belfast and he’s training a lot. Beforehand I would’ve maybe seen him two or three nights a week, but now he’s in the club all the time,” said Hawkins.

“Bernaldo’s not a typical Holy Trinity fighter – he’s a come forward fighter, he spars hard. He’s running out of sparring partners!

“He gave Dean Walsh a good fight in the Irish seniors, it was very close and a lot of people thought Bernaldo beat him. He’s tough, he’s matured a hell of a lot and he’s a very, very strong boy.

“He realises the opportunity he has – there’s not many people get that chance. Getting out of Ireland can sometimes be the hardest part of qualifying for the Olympics, and then even if you manage that, there’s nothing easy about the European qualifiers.

“The African qualifiers won’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be as tough as the Europeans, so it’s a great opportunity.”

Marime entered the African Elite Championships last October but exited at the quarter-final stage after dropping a split decision to Angola’s Adilson Justino.

Since then, Hawkins has worked hard to ensure Marime doesn’t fall into the same trap of starting quickly before seeing his challenge tail off.

He said: “Bernaldo started off very strong in the African Championships, had a great first round, but then lost concentration and ended up losing on a split decision.

“He does tend to switch off a bit, and that’s what I’ve really been working on –his concentration. The second round now becomes the most important round of the fight, so hopefully I’ve got that through to him.”

The Mozambique sports council has recently appointed a Cuban coach to help with their preparations, while Marime has benefited from being involved with John Conlan’s Ulster High Performance team.

Upon his return from Cameroon, he will travel with the Ulster select to Moscow for a training camp alongside some of Russia’s elite boxers.

And Hawkins is hopeful that, by then, he could be counting down to his first Olympic Games.

“We’ve worked hard with him, that bit of work with the High Performance is helping him because he’s getting some quality sparring.

“[In Mozambique] They don’t put a lot into the boxing so anything the boys get out of it is earned. They’ve been doing a bit of work with the Cubans and they are now working with a Cuban coach who’s living in Mozambique.

“Bernaldo said he is a good guy, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on. There’s three places at his weight, so he has a chance.”

Big Hitters in Town for Dockers Showdown

FORMER world middleweight champion Darren Barker was joined by fellow big-hitters Spencer Oliver, Kevin Mitchell and Maurice Hope in Belfast last Friday night as the Dockers club renewed their rivalry with Repton.

Barker - a former amateur star with the famous London club, which was also home to the Kray brothers during their younger days – has been an ever-present in recent times as the clubs share home and away dates ever year.

Friday night’s event marked the 26th year of the association between the club and Dockers head coach Paddy Fitzsimons described it as “a brilliant night”.

“The place was packed out,” he said.

“The fights were all brilliant – James McDonagh got a bad decision, we felt, and so Repton won 5-3. That would have made it 4-4. But the eight fights were all good scraps.

“Christopher Meighan had a great win and Marc McLaughlin topped the bill against Billy Beer, who’s very highly-rated. McLaughlin boxed the head off him – he was brilliant.”

Newly-crowned WBO international bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett also made an appearance with his belts, including the British title he won against Jason Booth last year.

The Dockers are slated to travel to London for the return leg on May 12.

Ulster boxers on international duty

FIVE Ulster fighters will be on international duty this weekend at tournaments in Finland and the Black Sea resort of Anapa in Russia.

Reigning Irish light-flyweight champion Stephen McKenna (Old School), Ormeau Road’s TJ Waite and European Games bronze medallist Sean McComb (Holy Trinity) are part of the squad that takes part in the Gee Bee multi-nations tournament in Finland.

The action gets under way in Helsinki on Friday.

It is expected that, along with Ireland the hosts, fighters from Australia, Belarus, Belgium, England, Estonia, France, Jordan, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden will also compete at the 35th edition of the tournament.

Elsewhere, Aaron McKenna – younger brother of Stephen – and Commonwealth Youth Games gold medallist James McGivern (St George’s) will go for glory at the prestigious Nikolay Pavlyukov tournament in Anapa.

They flew out to Russia on Saturday, with the competition beginning on Friday.

Ireland’s eight-strong squad will train with Russia, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Australia and a number of other nations in the lead up to the opening bell, and coach Billy McClean believes it will be of huge benefit to the Irish fighters.

He said: “The training camp and the tournament, which is one of the most prestigious in the world at this level, will be an invaluable experience for our young and talented squad.”

Gee-Bee tournament squad: 49kg: S McKenna (Old School); 52kg: TJ Waite (Ormeau Road); 60kg: S McComb (Holy Trinity); 64kg: D Walsh (St Joseph’s/St Ibar’s); 75kg: M O’Reilly (Portlaoise); 91kg: D O’Neill (Paulstown). Coaches: Z Antia, N Burke; Physio: U Brooks; R&J: J Murrin.

Nikolay Pavlyukov squad: 52kg: S Flavin (Paulstown); 56kg: A McKenna (Old School); 56kg J McGivern (St George’s); 60kg: P Donovan (OLOL); 64kg: K Molloy (Oughterard); 69kg: M Nevin (Portlaoise); 75kg: K Keogh (Marble City); 81kg: Brian Kennedy (St Mary’s, D). Team manager: G O’Mahony; Coaches: B McClean, F McKenna; Physio: O O’Rourke; R&J: Larry Durand.