'It's okay chasing a dream, but what type of a dream is it?' Top coach Michael Hawkins issues pro warning to young boxers

Caoimhin Hynes lands a left hook the nose of Brian Kennedy during Saturday night's 81kg final at the Irish Elite Championships. Picture by Robert Smith
Neil Loughran

RESPECTED Belfast coach Michael Hawkins has warned young boxers to “think very carefully” before turning over to the paid ranks as he battles to convince top talent Caoimhin Hynes not to give up on the amateur game.

Hynes landed his first Irish Elite title on Saturday night, moving up from his natural middleweight to compete at light-heavy after entering the competition at late notice.

He defeated former Irish U22 champion Brian Kennedy on a split decision to add his name to a list of 81kg champions that includes Ken Egan and Joe Ward.

Hynes ran straight to Hawkins in the corner once the decision was announced, the culmination of a difficult 12 months, during which he was forced to spend time away from the ring after being stabbed in Belfast city centre.

And now the 21-year-old has some big decisions to make.

He has made no secret of his ambition to turn professional, and the end of his Commonwealth Games dream last November appeared to have accelerated that prospect.

Speaking last week, Hynes revealed he had met with representatives of a boxing management company the week after losing to Steven Donnelly in the Ulster Elite Championships semi-final.

And he said he was “trying to sort out sponsorship and a trainer” before making a call once and for all whether to make the switch.

Hynes is not on his own here either, and that is why Hawkins is keen to urge caution.

In recent years a host of young fighters have opted to turn their backs on the amateur game for a shot at the pro ranks and, while some have made impressive careers for themselves, those cases have been the exception rather than the rule.

“It’s always been the same, it hasn’t changed – you don’t turn professional unless someone knocks on your door,” said the experienced Holy Trinity coach.

“If you’re going and knocking on somebody else’s door, asking for them to sign you on, there’s no money in it.

“Kids have a dream, certainly. The pro game is a natural progression from the amateur scene and lots of boxers go on and do very well, so you have to respect that.

“But, speaking in general terms, if you can't win a senior title, you should be questioning whether you should go pro or not.

“Ask yourself the question and be genuine with yourself. Think very carefully about it.

“It’s okay chasing a dream, but what type of a dream is it?

“Some of the deals I’m hearing at the minute are unbelievable. It’s really ticket sales, but it’s not the boxers who are making the money.

“If you win a national title there’s a chance of getting on funding or getting on Irish squads, then you’re seeing a bit of the world and being funded for doing it.”

In the case of the heavy-handed Hynes, Hawkins was determined to get him back in the ring at the Irish Elites to refocus his mind.

Hynes had taken 10 weeks out after the Donnelly defeat but Saturday’s victory could open doors at the High Performance unit in Dublin, with the tempting offer of a three-match trip to America with the Irish team – leaving on March 8 – currently under consideration.

Having worked with Hynes since he first walked into the Turf Lodge gym at nine years old, Hawkins is not prepared to lose such an asset without a fight.

He continued: “It’s about keeping his mind active at the minute to see if we can get him focused again on the amateur scene, and not have him turn pro.

“We’re still working on that, only because I feel he’s too young to be stepping into the professional game.

“He needs a wee bit more time, a bit more thought on it, and then he can make his decision.

“We’ll keep trying. It’s eight months until the next Irish seniors in November, so we’ll try and get him focused on that.

“He’s been with us for 12 years so you don’t give up on someone like that easily.

“He’s won a lot of titles for the club, and coaches will naturally have some sort of input into where fighters are going, help advise them on their final decision.

“I would love to see him stay with us for another year and see where it takes us.”

National Elite Championship final results

48kg: S Sweeney (St Anne’s) bt C Coughlan (Monkstown, Dublin) 3-2

81+kg: N Fox (Rathkeale) bt L Browne (Aglish) 4-0

54kg: L Hogan (St Brigid’s, Edenderry) bt A Loughlin (St Michael’s, Dublin) 5-0

51kg: C Smith (Virginia/DCU) bt N Early (Ryston) 5-0

60kg: K Harrington (St Mary’s, Dublin) bt A Broadhurst (Dealgan) 5-0

57kg: M Walsh (Monkstown, Antrim) bt D Duffy (Mulhuddart) 5-0

91kg: K Afansev (Smithfield) bt K Sheehy (St Francis’s) 5-0

91+kg: D Gardiner (Clonmel) bt M Keenan (Rathkeale) 5-0

69kg: G Walsh (Sparticus) bt C Ginty (Geesala) 5-0

69kg: K Molloy (Oughterard) bt E McKeever (Holy Family, Drogheda) 5-0

75kg: M Nevin (Portlaoise) bt B McGinty (Oakleaf) 4-1

49kg: C Jordan (St Aidan’s) bt R Nesbitt (Carrickmacross) 4-1

56kg: E Metcalfe (Hyland Academy) bt T McCarthy (Setanta) 3-2

64kg: W Kelly (Portlaoise) bt C Ferguson (Clonard) 5-0

60kg: G Bates (St Mary’s, Dublin) bt F Cleary (Ballina) 5-0

81kg: C Hynes (Holy Trinity) bt B Kennedy (St Mary’s, Daingean) 3-2

52kg: C Quinn (Clonard) WO

64kg: J Lambe (Carrickmacross) WO

75kg: A Burke (St Mary’s, Dublin) WO

81kg: A O’Rourke (Castlerea) WO

Jimmy Magee Best Female Boxer: Grainne Walsh

President’s Cup Best Male Boxer: Kieran Molloy

Michaela Walsh with coach Paul Johnston and dad Damien after Saturday night's Irish Elite Championship success


MICHAELA Walsh proved she has developed into a “fully fledged 57 kilo fighter” when she won another Irish Elite title at the weekend, insists club coach Paul Johnston.

Walsh won a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games boxing in the 51kg weight division, and took European Union gold in Italy last summer at 54kg.

Now she has moved up again, and Walsh – considered a major medal hope at next month’s Commonwealths in Australia - looked impressive in getting the better of the experienced Dervla Duffy at the National Stadium on Saturday night.

“We knew what Dervla was going to do,” said Monkstown coach Johnston.

“Over the past three months Michaela has been in an intense strength-building programme, she’s been really working on her physical strength.

“So whereas before she would nearly have had to box around Dervla, she was able to put Dervla on the back foot; there was that much of a change in her physical development.

“She’s now a fully fledged 57 kilo fighter. She has the height and the frame for the move up to 57, but she’s now fully developed in terms of the muscle mass she has.

“It was a fantastic performance, and she couldn’t be in a better place now to go to the Gold Coast.”

Walsh was the only member of the Northern Ireland team bound for the Commonwealths to enter the Irish Elites, and Johnston admits one eye is on the European Championships in May and the Worlds in November.

With qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games her long-term objective it was “key”, according to Johnston, that she established herself as the number one in Ireland at her new weight.

“There’s a bigger picture out there for Michaela,” he continued.

“While the Commonwealth Games is important, it’s more important for her and her Olympic dream to be getting that high level competition in Poland [at the Europeans] and India [at the Worlds].

“She’s an exceptional athlete - she has as much talent as anybody I’ve ever trained, and her potential is limitless.

“I definitely see her being a Tokyo potential, and I know speaking to Bernard Dunne and Zaur [Antia] that Michaela is very much in their plans for Tokyo.”

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