McKenna brothers have Gold on their minds ahead of busy month

Stephen McKenna lost in the bantamweight final of the Irish Elite Championships earlier this year, but is hoping to come up trumps at the upcoming Ulster Elites. Picture by Sportsfile
Stephen McKenna lost in the bantamweight final of the Irish Elite Championships earlier this year, but is hoping to come up trumps at the upcoming Ulster Elites. Picture by Sportsfile Stephen McKenna lost in the bantamweight final of the Irish Elite Championships earlier this year, but is hoping to come up trumps at the upcoming Ulster Elites. Picture by Sportsfile

IT’S all about the gold for the McKenna clan from Smithborough at the minute, with youngest brother Aaron lining up his pro debut under the Golden Boy banner and middle sibling Stephen targeting a place at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Eighteen-year-old Aaron arrived in Los Angeles last week and has already gone into training camp mode as he builds towards his first fight as a professional, with the aim to get him out before the end of the year.

It leaves Stephen down one of his regular sparring partners coming into the Ulster Elite Championships, which get under way on November 15, with all eyes on finals night at the Ulster Hall on November 24.

But the 20-year-old has never been short of people to trade leather with. If he’s not sparring eldest brother Gary or Old School club-mate Terry McEntee, McKenna adopts a ‘have gloves, will travel’ approach.

He did rounds with James Tennyson before ‘The Assassin’ last fought in October, and has also sparred Gary Cully and David Oliver Joyce ahead of the Ulster Elites.

“It’s good for Aaron, I’m happy that he’s getting the opportunity to go out there. It’s a huge chance for him,” said McKenna, who trains at the purpose-built gym at the back of their Smithborough home.

“I’ll just keep on training away at home – I’ve Gary and Terry McEntee here so I’ll not be stuck for sparring. I go up and down to Dublin as well, I’ve been sparring a good mix of different styles so I’m ready for anyone.”

McKenna had also been playing a waiting game with his weight before eventually deciding to enter at lightweight rather than light-welter.

He was part of an Irish team that travelled to London for a dinner show last month and, after sparring three rounds at 64 kilos, decided to bide his time before making yet another move up.

Indeed, his physical development during the past two years has made it difficult to establish himself in any weight class. When he travelled to Samoa for the Commonwealth Youth Games in September 2015, he was 49kg and 5”8.

Now he stands at 6”0 and is talking about moving up again, having claimed the Irish Elite title at light-fly in early 2016 before reaching this year’s bantamweight decider, losing a close fight to Kurt Walker.

He added: “I’ve got very tall and it’s got very hard to keep the weight. I don’t see much point in trying to hold my weight - I want to develop and grow into a strong boxer instead of always making weight.

“A few weeks ago I was just seeing how I would get on at 64 but I feel I’ll be very strong at 60. I noticed the difference between a 60 and a 64 in that they’re a lot harder to push back, so I’m more comfortable in with 60s for now.

“That’ll probably be the case for the next year or so, and if I qualify for the Commonwealth Games I’ll maintain it well. I’d have no problem holding it.

“I haven’t really settled into a weight yet because I’ve just been growing and developing. Once I find a weight and really settle into it over time, I’ll be very strong and very hard to beat.”

One man he could come up against the 60 kilo class is James McGivern – a team-mate, and fellow gold medal winner, on the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games team.

They couldn’t have foreseen then a possible meeting down the line, and McKenna has the height of respect for the St George’s stylist.

“I’ve been on a lot of teams with James, he’s a good lad. Maybe we’ll meet in the final. I’ve sparred him a few times through the years and it was always good.

“We probably wouldn’t have seen the day we’d have met – in 2015 I thought I’d be 49 or 52 for the next Commonwealth Games but it hasn’t worked out that way.

“We are where we are, and I’d love to get a gold medal in the senior Commonwealths to go with the one from the youths.”


Last week saw the conclusion of the marathon 300-boxer Belfast Halloween Open competition at Belfast’s Girdwood Community Hub, run by the County Antrim Board.

There were 60 bouts on Saturday, October 28, 80 the following day and 20 to bring the event to a close on Monday, November 30.

Across the three days, there was schoolboy/girl and youth boxing at its best, with clubs sending boxers from as far away as Donegal and Cork.

A spokesman for the County Antrim Board said: “There was a great atmosphere, with Ulster and Antrim officials pulling together to organise an efficient and superbly run competition.

“This new working relationship can only bode well for the upcoming championships and future events. Thanks to our fellow Ulster officials for supporting the event.”

Alderman Tommy Sandford of Belfast City Council was on hand to present the winners with their medals

KELLIE Harrington and Grainne Walsh struck double gold at the Boxam Elite tournament in the Canary Islands over the weekend

Harrington beat Romania’s Cristina Cosma and Walsh got the better of Rosie Eccles of Wales in Tenerife.

Harrington, a World Elite silver medallist at light-welter, was always in control in her lightweight final against Cosma, the southpaw occasionally switching to orthodox en route to a comprehensive win, with the Dubliner earning a 30-25,30-26, 30-27, 30-26, 20-26 verdict.

Walsh had to contend with the solid jab of Eccles in all three rounds, but blasted in enough solid combinations throughout to earn a 3-2 split decision against the Welsh battler.

THE controversial leader of AIBA has been suspended from his role after allegations of “financial mismanagement” and corruption, with a return to the post highly unlikely.

Dr Wu’s turbulent 11-year reign is set to end after AIBA’s disciplinary commission voted unanimously to suspend him. The 70-year-old is alleged to have accumulated debt of 15m Swiss francs for the organisation through poor financial management and auditing.

He is also accused of trying to depose the members of AIBA’s executive committee who challenged his leadership.

THE weigh-ins for the Ulster Elite Championships will take place on Sunday from 9am-10am at the following venues: Ormeau Road BC, Belfast, Antrim; Station Centre Omagh, Fermanagh/ Tyrone; Oakleaf BC, Derry; St John Bosco Newry, Armagh/Down; Letterkenny BC, Donegal.

Medical record books must be produced at the weigh-in. All boxers must advise the doctor of any medication which they are taking or have taken during the previous four weeks.

On receipt of the entries from the venues, the draw will be made at White River Hotel, Toome at 12pm. The preliminaries and semi-finals take place at the Dockers Club from November 15-17, with finals night in the Ulster Hall on November 24.

Tickets for finals night are now on sale at the following prices: £15 ringside, £10 general admission, £5 concessions (under 14 years). Contact Charlie Toland or Liam Corr for tickets.