I've learned from 2015 European Games disappointment says medal hope Kurt Walker
THE hurt of watching from the wings in 2015 will be Kurt Walker’s inspiration as he sets his sights on topping the podium at the upcoming European Games.
Aged just 19 and competing in his first major international competition after a couple of years as Michael Conlan’s understudy at bantamweight, Walker was unlucky to draw the eventual gold medallist out of the hat first.
Russian Bakhtovar Nazirov edged a close fight, ending the Canal counter-puncher’s tournament early and leaving Walker to watch on as Brendan Irvine (silver), Sean McComb (bronze) and Michael O’Reilly (gold) all medalled.
Although delighted for his team-mates, it was tough to take.
Four years on, though, Walker goes into these European Games – which get under way on Friday – full of confidence after landing a European Union gold medal last November.
And he believes what happened last time out will stand to him when he steps between the ropes in Minsk.
“At that stage in my career, I just took everything as it came. I was delighted to be picked,” said Walker, whose preparation is on point following a 10 day training camp in Jordanstown with the USA, India, Romania and Italy.
“It has stuck with me too because getting put out in the first round, first person out on our team, that was hard to take. Now I’m glad I experienced that, and thankfully it hasn’t happened too often since - most of the times if I’ve lost it’s been for medals or when I already have a medal secured.
“I’ll be the first in the ring again this year, 56 is the very first session on. It was intimidating last time but a lot has changed since them. I’m experienced at this level now.
“Very few people just go out and start winning stuff. I feel like I’ve served my time now and I’m going to reap the rewards, try and get more and more gold medals.
“If I could come back with a gold medal it would be massive.”
Nazirov will be among the front-runners again this time around, alongside the likes of England’s Peter McGrail, the man who defeated Walker in the Commonwealth Games decider Down Under 14 months ago.
Yet neither man holds any fear for Walker now.
Less than a year after the European Games, Walker was a comprehensive winner over Nazirov at Dublin’s National Stadium, while he also avenged that loss to McGrail in the European Union final.
Even through the difficult times, and even when he wasn’t always sure of what he was being told, Walker has listened to the voices that mattered.
And while some prefer not to be overloaded with information about potential opponents, the 23-year-old wants all bases covered.
“You do [listen to coaches], but at the time you think they’re talking sh*te because you keep hearing it and you think it’s never going to get better, but it does get better after a while. You just have to bide your time.
“Even now though, no matter how confident you are, before a fight your head’s wrecked. That’s why watching videos [of opponents] helps me because you’re just going back to the basics to see what you’re good at, where you can improve.
“I’d probably watch a couple of videos a day of opponents – I don’t think you’re preparing well if you don’t.
“It gives me peace of mind if I watch a fight back and see that I was better against them, or areas I need to work on. That all helps me going into it.
“I’m where I want to be at the moment. When I went to the European Championships a few years ago, that was my first major international medal, but I think maybe I settled a bit after getting bronze.
“I’m a lot more mature now; that won’t happen again.”
Highly-rated Jake Tucker served notice of his considerable talent across the water at the weekend when he finished top of the middleweight pile at the prestigious Haringey Box Cup in London.
The Newry teenager, currently boxing out of the famous Solly ABC club after relocating to Liverpool earlier this year, defeated two ABA champions en route to taking 75kg gold.
Considering injury has kept him out of the ring for most of the past 12 months, it was some way for Tucker to announce his comeback - and he praised the role of Paul Edwards and the other Solly coaches afterwards.
A STRONG Ulster High Performance team departs for the Black Forest Cup in Germany today.
Nineteen of the best emerging talents in the province will travel to Stuttgart with high hopes of returning with a medal, especially considering the success Ulster has enjoyed at this competition in recent years.
Ulster panel: T O’Neill (St Paul’s), D Bradley (Holy Trinity), B Collins (East Down), R Mongan (Gilford), J Grey (St Monica’s), M McCullough (Gleann), O Mulholland (East Down), B Marshall (Emerald), T Orr (Lisburn), T McCann (St Paul’s), E MccAUL (St Joseph’s), S O’Gorman (St Malachy’s), E Onwuka (All Saints), T Mayse (Two Castles), C Bigger (Cookstown), J McArdle (Ardoyne), O Treanor (Emyvale), C Fisher (Holy Trinity), J McGivern (St George’s)
Coaches: D Kennedy (Ulster HP), R McShane (Letterkenny), M Treanor (Enyvale), JP Delaney (Emerald), M Lavery (Lisburn), J Knox (Ulster Council rep)
JUST two years after reforming, the Star of the Sea Boxing Club in Greysteel has produced two All-Ireland champions.
First up was John Donaghy at Boy 2 56kg who won in style, stopping his opponent in the second round. Then came the cool, calm and collected Oran Carton in the Boy 4 60kg final.
Star of the Sea was borne out of the old Eglinton Boxing Club and, under the expert tutelage of head coach Robert Whiteside, has thrived in its new surroundings.
The club has thanked the coaches, staff and officer board of the Vale Centre, and its sponsors for their continued support.
Star of the Sea run young gloves on Monday nights, term time, from 6.30pm-7-30pm, with the senior boxers operating Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 7-30pm-9pm.
It has been a breakthrough year for Star of the Sea, ending with Cathal McLaughlin, Ben Cairns and Oran Carton - along with coach Robert - heading to Hull with the Co Derry Team, while club secretary and founding member Jim Knox is bound for the Black Forest Cup with Ulster.