Market's James McGivern hopes he can be Michael Conlan's heir

St George's ace James McGivern is in Russia at the minute and his sights are set on winning gold at the European Youth Championships <br />Picture by Declan Roughan
St George's ace James McGivern is in Russia at the minute and his sights are set on winning gold at the European Youth Championships
Picture by Declan Roughan

IF, AS expected, Michael Conlan turns over to the professional ranks following this summer’s Olympic Games, bantamweights across the world will breathe a sigh of relief.

Back home though, the race to fill that considerable void will be led by two of Ulster and Ireland’s most talented 56kg fighters - two-time Irish Elite champion Kurt Walker and the up-and-coming James McGivern.

Twenty-year-old Walker is already an established member of the Irish squad and has competed at several international tournaments -  including last summer’s inaugural European Games - since moving up to senior level.

But McGivern, two years Walker’s junior, has swept the boards at every level on his way up and intends to carry that success into the big leagues when he joins the senior ranks next year.

The St George’s counter-puncher took the national U18 title earlier this month and is currently in Russia with the Irish squad, competing at the European Youth Championships, which started on Monday and run until next Wednesday.

By the end of the year, he wants to be world champion at youth level, before turning his attention to being on the Northern Ireland team bound for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

After that, it’s all about the big one - the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. McGivern is thinking big and, given what he has achieved already, who can blame him? “Next year, my intention is to turn senior at 56, but Kurt’s a great boxer himself and it’ll be very competitive,” said the Belfast Met student.

“It’s great for Irish boxing to have two world-class athletes at the same weight competing and it’s the same right across the board. I’m going to get this year out of the way, hopefully come back in September as world champion and then, next year, try and break into that senior panel, then 2018 will be full steam ahead towards the Commonwealth Games. Beyond that, Tokyo is the dream, definitely.”

By then, it would be no surprise if one or both of McGivern and Walker consider a move up the 60kg limit. Indeed, that could even come in time for the Commonwealth Games as two-time Irish lightweight champion Sean McComb has recently declared his intention to campaign at light-welterweight in future.

No matter what they decide, the likes of Olympians Conlan and Paddy Barnes are the example for both to follow. Conlan’s father John, a high performance coach with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, sees a lot of similarities between McGivern and his son. The pair sparred prior to Michael’s historic gold medal-winning performance at the World Championships last year and 18-year-old McGivern believes he can eventually follow in his footsteps.

He said: “Definitely. Michael’s the same as all the rest of us - he’s working class, he got where he is by working hard.

“There’s no reason why I couldn’t be up around that sort of pedestal and I fully intend to be up there in a few years’ time. I plan to be where Michael is at the minute.”

And as for the spars, well, McGivern held his own, although he was on the receiving end of one particular shot, he says, will stay with him for life: “I don’t want to say it was close because he’s world champion, but it was a good spar. I wasn’t getting beat up too badly, I didn’t get knocked out or anything,” he says.

“I remember one of the times we were sparring and we were going alright for the first few rounds and then, in the last round, he switched it up a wee bit and caught me with a left hand.

“How I stayed up, I still don’t know to this day. It was like being hit by a horse.”

AS HE sets his sights on delivering gold at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, world champion Michael Conlan gave his thoughts on the potential heirs to his Irish bantamweight throne - James McGivern and Kurt Walker.

He said: “I really rate James, he’s a great kid. A great person too, but he’s a fantastic boxer, definitely one for the future.

“I rate Kurt very highly as well and both are genuine gold medal hopes for Tokyo, both very talented. It’s just all about who wants it more and who has the better game-plan, if they ever meet.

“They’re both getting bigger, so it could be at 60. It’s a fight I’d like to watch. James is an out-and-out counter-puncher, whereas Kurt is more of an attacking counter-puncher. He’s very fast and tricky.

“James is a fantastic young fighter and Kurt’s going to blast onto the scene once I go. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

HOLY TRINITY stylist Sean McComb says he is “more than capable” of reaching August’s Olympic Games if given the chance at next week’s final qualifier in Azerbaijan.

The two-time Irish lightweight champion flies out to Baku this morning after visa issues delayed his departure to join the rest of the Irish squad, who have been in the Azeri capital since last Thursday.

McComb has recently stepped up to the light-welterweight division and Irish head coach Zaur Antia wanted him in Baku as he decides who to send to the Olympic qualifier at 64kg.

Reigning Irish light-welterweight champion Dean Walsh and the man he beat in the Irish elite final back in December, Ray Moylette, are also in the running - but McComb says he can live with anybody at the heavier weight.

“I know I’m capable of doing the job,” he said.

“I thought my chance had gone when they said there was no box-offs. But it was Zaur and the coaches in the high performance that put my name forward, obviously knowing that I’ve been sparring well with the 64kilo boxers at the last training camp we had with Great Britain, Kazakhstan and India.

“They know I’m capable of going and qualifying. They just want to select their best team. It’s nothing to do with Irish titles or anything like that, it’s just who’s on form. Zaur’s on the floor every day, he knows what’s going on.”

Of the light-welterweights in the qualification mix in Baku, Great Britain’s Pat McCormick is one of the favourites to take one of the five spaces on offer. And McComb says his performances against McCormick had caught the eye of the Irish coaches as he bids to seal a shock late spot in Brazil: “I feel like I’m performing better since I moved up," he added.

“I sparred the likes of Pat McCormick, open sparring, four and five rounds and I did very well - there was nothing in it and he’s one of the favourites to qualify. I’m always confident and, judging by what’s left, I’d say Pat McCormick would probably be one of the best - and I have the beating of him.”

As well as having a decision to make at 64kg, Antia must also choose which middleweight - Newry southpaw Conor Wallace or world number three Michael O'Reilly - will compete in Baku.

The final panel will be confirmed on Friday.