ULSTER’S emerging young talent proved beyond any doubt that they can compete at elite level, according to provincial president Kevin Duffy.
Team NI return home from the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast with six silver and two bronze, and six of those medals were won by athletes aged 24 or under.
Aidan Walsh and James McGivern both won gold at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games, and followed that up with silver and bronze respectively at the senior competition three years later.
Brendan Irvine, another silver medallist, is 21, Kurt Walker and Kristina O’Hara are 22 while Michaela Walsh – who was competing in her second Commonwealth Games final in-a-row – is still only 24.
And while there was obvious disappointment not to be bringing back any gold Duffy insists the performances, and the experience of the Games, will stand all the boxers in good stead.
“These are young boxers,” said the Derry man, a coach at St Joseph’s boxing club.
“Now, they didn’t come out of thin air - they have been around and had great success internationally at underage level, but that transition to senior elite level can be very difficult.
“Not all boxers can make that step up, but these boxers have shown they can. They have competed, and will continue to compete, with the best in the world. To get six in the final was a great achievement.
“A lot of our boxers made the choice this year, when they were selected for the Commonwealth Games, not to compete in the Irish elite championships.
“The people who won those championships will definitely be looking over their shoulders at our boxers who didn’t enter it.
“The coaches, led by John Conlan, did a great job in their preparation. I’m sure they were disappointed on finals day but I genuinely feel they have nothing to be disappointed of, they have continued the success of boxing in Ulster and there’s certainly a platform there to continue working from.
“If they continue their progress, there’s no doubt they all have a very bright future in the ring.”
What can also be overlooked sometimes is the work that goes on behind the scenes before the glitz and glamour of the big competition.
For this team, the journey began with a team-building retreat to Newcastle at the start of January before 12 weeks of intense training in Jordanstown, with the finishing touches applied in a fortnight spent at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
Boxing has a history of delivering medals and success but, as Duffy explains, it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
He continued: “Because of the traditional success that boxing has had through the years, there’s almost an assumption that they’re going to do well and bring back medals.
“That only becomes reality because of the hard work and dedication of the athletes in the gym. That team came together in early January, they were working for almost 12 weeks flat out, full-time training, a lot of them giving up work – boxers and the coaches – training twice a day for five days a week.
“Intense training, living that life away from their families, some of them have children, so sometimes the sacrifices that go into it are not completely appreciated.
“No matter what talent you have, or whatever success we have had in the ring previously, it’s all down to work and dedication, and the expertise of the coaches – not just the high performance coaches led by John but the coaches who are in the clubs and have worked with these athletes beforehand.”
The Irish team bound for the European Men’s and Women’s Youth Championships left for Italy yesterday.
Middleweights Kane Tucker, from the Holy Family club in Belfast, and Lauren Kelly have been named Irish captains for the championships, which get under way in Abruzzi today and run until April 26.
As well as Tucker, Ulster is represented by talented Two Castles light-fly Jude Gallagher and Immaculata pocket rocket Caitlyn Fryers.
The 15-strong Irish has been training at St Brigid’s boxing club in Offaly for a tournament which will act as a qualifier for the World Youth and Olympic Youth Championships.
Peter O’Donnell and Fiona Hennigan are Irish team managers, while the coaches are Billy McClean, Michael Carruth, Michael Mongan and Anita Just. John Casey is referee and judge.
“The team have worked extremely hard and are very much looking forward to the competition,” said McClean.
“It will be very tough as it is a qualifier or the World Championships and Olympic Youths. They’ll have to go very deep into the competition to qualify. We have a strong and talented team and they will be endeavouring to perform to their very best in Italy.”
Male: 49kg: J Gallagher (Two Castles); 52kg: D Clancy (Ballinacarrow); 56kg: B McCarthy (St Michaels, Athy); 60kg: A Higgins (Fr Horgan’s); 64kg: C Walsh (Riverstown); 69kg: E Donovan (OLOL); 75kg: K Tucker (Holy Family); 81kg: E Barrett (Olympic)
Female: 48kg: D Moorehouse (Enniskerry); 51kg: C Fryers (Immaculata); 54kg: M Geraghty (Baldoyle); 57kg: D Rooney (Sean McDermott); 60kg: A Ginty (Geesala); 64kg: E Igharo (Clann Naofa); 75kg: L Kelly (St Brigid’s, Edenderry)
2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Sean Duffy will headline the Holy Trinity end of season awards night at Falls Bowling Club on Thursday night.
Keady native Duffy tops the 12-bout bill against up-and-coming Cookstown lightweight Teo Alin, but there are plenty more intriguing fights lined up.
At 56kg Kian Bittles, part of last year’s Commonwealth Youth Games team, takes on John Paul Hale from Star, while Jon O’Connell faces Cookstown’s Craig Bigger in an exciting 50kg tussle.
Doors open at 8pm, £5 entry.
JOE Ward made it three wins from three in the World Series of Boxing at the weekend with an impressive stoppage victory over Bakary Diabira.
Fighting for the British Lionhearts team in Newport, Wales, the three-time European champion was in flying form as he forced a fifth round stoppage of the Frenchman.
Ward, who had Irish head coach Zaur Antia working his corner, sits top of the light-heavy individual WSB rankings. His previous wins came against Damir Plantic and Blagoy Naydenov.