Ulster Elite Championships could be open to boxers from all over Ireland in 2019

The Ulster Elite Championships returned to the Ulster Hall last November, and has already been booked for 2019
The Ulster Elite Championships returned to the Ulster Hall last November, and has already been booked for 2019

NEXT year’s Ulster Elite Championships look set to be opened up to boxers from across Ireland for the first time in the competition’s history.

Discussions are ongoing about the possibility of allowing entrants from across the country in non-Commonwealth Games years, when the Ulster Elites are used for selection purposes.

The 2019 competition - which takes place from January 7-19 - would therefore be called the Ulster Elite Open Championships, and would be available to fighters not only eyeing Ulster titles but also preparing for the Irish Elites in Dublin the following month.

“It’s something we’re looking at and we’ve still to make a final decision on it,” said Ulster Council president Kevin Duffy.

“There’s criteria in the rulebook about provincial elite championships, which we would obviously apply at the time of selection for the Commonwealth Games and that’ll not change in those years.

“We just want to give people an opportunity, and allow our boxers a good championship and good preparation. Also for the public, it allows them the opportunity to see the best boxers competing in our province.

“We had a discussion about it at the last Ulster Council meeting because we believe it’s in the best interests of our boxers and the wider interest of boxing in general, so we can have as good a competition as possible in Ulster.

“There was a unanimous view that it would be a good idea and something we should explore a wee bit further. It’s looking very likely that’s what we’ll do.”

In previous years entry levels for the Ulster Elites have dropped off when organised in close proximity to the Irish Elites, especially with the 2020 Olympic cycle getting under way at the start of 2019 as athletes turn their focus to Tokyo.

The Irish Elites run from February 8-23, but Duffy is hopeful this won’t stop the top talent in Ulster entering the provincial showpiece.

He added: “We felt that was the best date available.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of any of the boxers or the coaches, obviously they’ll make their own decision, but we have close links with all the boxers, all the county boards and all the clubs.

“We’re hoping because there’s nothing else around at that time or leading up to it that they’ll see this as perfect preparation for the Irish seniors. We’re hopeful, and we haven’t heard any different, that all [Ulster] boxers thinking of entering the Irish seniors will be entering Ulster as well.

“Everything we’re trying to do in terms of the fixture list is in conjunction with John Conlan. We are working closely together to plan for all the age groups, and our aim is to make sure as many Ulster boxers as possible have the opportunity to compete at the Olympics.”

Following on from the success of last year’s Ulster Elite finals night, which was streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website, the Ulster Hall has already been booked for January 19 2019.

And Duffy insists it is important to “keep the momentum going” from the night boxing returned to its spiritual home last November.

“It was important for the new Ulster Boxing Council to try and get the elites back at the Ulster Hall again – we did that, and we did it pretty successfully.

“We know that was a Commonwealth Games year and there was big interest in it, so in order to keep the momentum going we were very keen to get back into the Ulster Hall and encourage, as much as possible, the best boxers to enter the championships.

“The boxers who competed last year were very positive and we want to build on that.”

Kurt Walker pushed the hugely talented Peter McGrail all the way at the Commonwealth Games in Austrralia earlier this year
Kurt Walker pushed the hugely talented Peter McGrail all the way at the Commonwealth Games in Austrralia earlier this year


KURT Walker is part of a strong nine-man Irish team that heads off to Germany this morning for the Chemistry Cup – but his eyes are fixed firmly on Tokyo 2020.

The Canal counter-puncher has established himself as Ireland’s number one bantamweight since Michael Conlan turned pro two years ago, and next year the race for Olympic qualification gets under way.

Walker, who returned from April’s Commonwealth Games in Australia with a silver medal, is determined to get as much international experience under his belt in the meantime – starting at the prestigious multi-nations tournament in Halle, which runs until Sunday.

“I was there four years ago and it’s a very high level competition,” said the 23-year-old.

“The USA are going, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia – all the best countries in the world will be there so there’s no messing about.

“The last time I lost to the Netherlands against a guy [Enrico Le Cruz] who ended up going to the Olympics at 60. It was a weird fight - I won the first round easy but then I blew up, I peaked too early and just messed about.

“I was battering him in sparring then went there and got battered. I was only 18 and it was a bit of a learning curve alright.

“But I don’t even care about medals this year. I just want to keep improving for next year. I’m just trying to work on different things so I’m best equipped to beat whoever I come up against.”

The man who defeated him in the Gold Coast final, England’s Peter McGrail, is expected to be among the leading medal contenders in Tokyo.

And Walker is confident he could get the better of the Scouser should they meet again.

“I think I learned how to beat him. I know what I need to do, it’s just whether I can do it or not,” he said.

“He’s tricky and if I have a game-plan, he might be able to change his. You just never know. I knew he was a nightmare but it was a very close fight. There wasn’t much in it. He’s world class, but I’ll get him eventually.

“In my head, everything I do now is just pushing towards the Olympics. Peter McGrail’s going to be one of the big names there so if I can beat him I’ll be doing alright.

“But you can be unlucky and never qualify. Look at somebody like Sean McComb – I don’t know how he never went to the Olympics. But I believe I can qualify, 100 per cent. I’m fully confident it will happen.”

Walker isn’t the only Ulster fighter heading to Germany today, with Clonard’s Conor Quinn the pick at 52kg in a team that also includes the highly-rated Kieran Molloy and Michael Nevin, as well as light-heavyweight kingpin Joe Ward.

Ireland team

52kg: C Quinn (Clonard); 56kg: K Walker (Canal); 60kg: G Bates (St Mary’s); 64kg: W Kelly (Portlaoise); 69kg: K Molloy (Oughterard); 75kg: M Nevin (Portlaoise); 81kg: J Ward (Moate); 91kg: K Afanasev (Smithfield); 91+kg: D Gardiner (Clonmel)