Boxing

'We're starting to get noticed around the scene again so we must be doing something right'

Wexford man Eddie Bolger has been German head coach since early 2017, and feels his team is ready to make an impact in the international arena. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

HE was there during some of the golden days for Irish boxing over the last decade, and Eddie Bolger is confident the Germany squad he now heads up is on a similar trajectory – thanks to techniques picked up on home soil.

The Wexford man was one of the high performance coaches in Dublin alongside Billy Walsh, Zaur Antia and John Conlan, working closely with the likes of Katie Taylor, Joe Ward, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes as they prepared for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

While the fallout from the disappointment of those Games rumbled on, Bolger was offered the chance to become head coach in Germany – seen as a sleeping giant in the world boxing scene.

And it is the tricks and techniques learned in Ireland that have seen him implement change on foreign soil.

“I was part of that set-up for a long time. Zaur is second to none throughout the world, he’s absolutely fantastic, and that’s what we’re trying to replicate.

“Throughout lockdown we had a lot of coach meetings, discussing what we planned to do when everything was up and running again, and that proved very beneficial. It’s very much what is being done in Ireland, but we picked it up off everybody else a long time ago.

“That’s how Ireland improved, but Germany hadn’t done that in a long time. You can run, you can lift weights, but for three three minute rounds, if you’re technically not universal you’re going to struggle.

“When you come up against the Irish guys, this is what you have to be mindful of and it’s a difficult task.”

And that was the position Bolger found himself in at the European Olympic qualifier back in March. In the last session before the event was postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, featherweight Hamsat Shadolov faced Kurt Walker for a place in Tokyo.

Walker, as European Games champion, was heavy favourite to secure his spot. But Bolger helped mastermind an unexpected German win, with Shadolov building on a strong start to have his hand raised.

“It wasn’t something to look forward to, but you hope against hope.

“I know Kurt very well, even going back as a club coach we boxed Kurt four or five times. He’s a class act, very big for the weight.

“Hamsat’s not a surprise to me, he has lots of scalps - he beat [two-time Olympic gold medallist] Robeisy Ramirez, gave him a count, he’s really performed in international camps.

“I knew he was good but I also knew John Conlan knew Hamsat from the youths. It was definitely not a fluke.

“When the qualifier was postponed, it was probably the worst time because it had already started. But then when we got the draw I was hoping it was going to be cancelled anyway! We got a tough draw, but that’s always the case when you’re an emerging nation.

“I still had every confidence in all the athletes.”

And, Bolger insists, for good reason. Since his first international trip away with Germany, a multi-nations tournament in Dublin, they have made huge strides.

And while other nations were unable to do any sort of collective work throughout lockdown, Germany’s regional squads never stopped. It was in the period before the qualifier, though, when Bolger really noticed a change in the performance level of the German team.

“There’s 16 states in Germany and nearly all of them would have Olympic centres, so when lockdown came, boxers could train in small groups in these centres with their high performance coach. We didn’t really stop.

“It was important for me to keep in touch and make sure we’re doing the right things so that when we come back into collective training, nobody was out of sync.

“The six months before the qualifier, we really started turning a corner. We started making an impact at training camps, at international tournaments as well. We had a dual match with Cuba, we lost 6-2 but every fight was competitive.

“In that period I could see we were now doing the right things and making an impact.”

Bolger is back home at the minute having travelled back and forth throughout the summer, but on Friday he heads for Austria where the Germans have scheduled a first collective training camp for their boxers.

With an extra year to prepare for the Olympic Games, the goalposts have shifted slightly in terms of expectations, with Bolger in no doubt that the delay will work in Germany’s favour.

“Definitely. We’re starting to get noticed around the scene again so we must be doing something right.

“Another year will breed confidence and where you might be going to an Olympics with somebody like Hamsat to gain experience, in a year’s time he might be going to win a medal. That’s what you’d be focused on.

“The talent pool in Germany is phenomenal but we’ve a young squad, so another year suits us.”

BOLGER ASKED TO STAY FOR PARIS 2024 GAMES

FORMER Irish coach Eddie Bolger has been offered a new contract to remain as Germany head coach until the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Bolger took up the role in early 2017, following fellow Wexford man Billy Walsh to foreign shores after Walsh left Ireland to take charge of Team USA in November 2015.

The Germans have clearly been impressed with the work Bolger has done in developing a talented young squad, and are keen to secure his services before next summer’s delayed Olympics in Tokyo.

“I’ve been offered a contract until Paris 2024,” he said.

“Now, it’s a bit early; I was very surprised. You’re judged by your Olympics, but I always believed that four years would never be enough to instill a new training structure in Germany, and to get some success.

“You would like to see the guys you worked with in the first cycle performing in the second Olympic cycle. I hope I’m still there until Paris anyway.”

Bolger won’t have to wait until the Olympic qualifiers to see some familiar faces, however, with Ireland due to send a team to the Cologne Cup, formerly known as the Chemistry Cup, which begins on October 14.

“Hopefully, if all goes to plan, we’ll have an international sparring camp before that.

“We’re limiting the amount of entries to eight, with two German boxers in each weight category. We’re using it as part of our selection process for the World qualifier.

“That’s all booked, ready to go - Ireland, GB, and hopefully the USA are coming. We’re good to go but it can change before then. You’ve got to plan, and you have to be positive.”

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Boxing