Boxing

Seconds Out: IABA need to put plan in place for sake of boxers says coach Ralph McKay

St Paul's coach Ralph McKay is keeping light-fly Dylan Eagleson (left) focused on the European youth championships later this year, but has voiced his concern at the lack of plans for any kind of domestic competitions. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

THE Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) needs to “put some kind of plan in place” so boxers across Ireland have a goal to work towards in the months ahead, according to St Paul’s coach Ralph McKay.

It is now September and the only competitions for Irish boxers in the months ahead are on the international stage after the European Boxing Council confirmed last week that its U22, youth and junior tournaments would all go ahead in November and December.

One of McKay’s fighters - light-fly Dylan Eagleson - is slated to represent Ireland at the European youths in Montenegro from November 11-23, but with boxers still unable to do pads, never mind spar, preparing for such a major event is far from easy.

It is on the domestic front, though, where McKay feels some kind of guidance is needed, amid fears the rest of 2020 could end up being a write-off.

“There seems to be a lot of people who don’t want anything to happen this year at all, in terms of competitions. The virus is still going to be about in 2021, are they going to do the same then? You might as well just tell boxing clubs not to open if that’s the case,” he said.

“Kids can’t be training and working hard with no end game, nothing to look forward to. As it stands we still have no timetable, no schedule. There needs to be dates in place for them to work to.

“I can’t see why Dublin haven’t got some kind of a Covid committee to look into problems that could arise in championships, and how to overcome it. They need to put some kind of plan in place.

“They’re the ones who should be pushing to get competitions up and running, trying to normalise things where possible. Every other sport has procedures in place, it’s the same if you go into a shop or a restaurant.

“This is not going to go away; the virus is here to stay. Even the scientists haven’t got to grips with it and there’s unlikely to be a vaccine any time soon.

“I’m all for competitions going ahead, as long as the correct health and safety procedures are in place. If you’re in competition, every boxer gets their time slot, come in your gear. I see videos from all over the world of clubs doing pads with visors on, yet we still can’t do anything.

“Kids can go out, go to school, sit in a classroom, jump on a bus… but they can’t box?”

Boxers of all ages had to wait four-and-a-half months before they were allowed to return to their clubs at the start of August.

And while numbers were already restricted, the fact clubs can now only operate in pods of six can prove a logistical nightmare depending on the size of the premises.

McKay, who brought Olympian Brendan Irvine through the ranks at St Paul’s, says coaches and boxers alike are growing frustrated with the ongoing lack of activity.

“It’s very hard for clubs because there has been very little communication. There’s a bit of fatigue setting in with kids – ‘what are we training for, there’s nothing to look forward to?’

“I’ve been keeping Dylan informed of anything I’ve been hearing. You don’t to build hopes up too much, but at least he has something there.

“There’s ways and means of making it work, I really believe that, because at the minute it’s just very frustrating for everybody involved.”

Lightweight Jon McConnell is another member of that Ireland youth squad, which also contains Gleann’s Martin Brady-McCullough and Raphoe’s Leah Gallen amongst its Ulster contingent.

And McConnell’s coach at Holy Trinity, Michael Hawkins, agreed it is a very difficult environment to try and prepare for any kind of international competition.

He said: “You’re training every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but from a coach’s point of view I’m not allowed to do pads with him and he can’t spar. That’s where we are.

“It’s 10 weeks until those championships. There has been some talk that coaches could be allowed to do pads soon enough, so the next step after that is obviously sparring. If that happens, then the Europeans could be on.

“To be honest, Jon is keeping me focused. Right away, as soon as something comes in from the European Boxing Council, I’m getting a text from him. I’d love to see it happening, but there’s a lot of road to travel before then and a lot of things of be overcome.

“All we’re doing is ticking over and, at the end of the day, six weeks is enough for a world title fight so eight weeks would be plenty for us for a European championship. If that’s what it takes, everybody would be in the same boat, so fingers crossed.”

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Michael Hawkins jr, who was named senior coach of the year at the Belfast City Council sports awards

HAWKINS JR AND BRADY-McCULLOUGH PICK UP BELFAST CITY COUNCIL AWARDS

BOXING had two winners at Belfast City Council’s 2020 sports awards last week – with Michael Hawkins jr picking up the senior coach of the year gong, while Martin Brady-McCullough was joint winner in the junior male sports personality of the year category.

Brady-McCullough shot to international attention last year when he landed a bronze medal at the European junior championships in Romania, and teenage Gleann stylist carried that form into 2020.

At the start of the year the west Belfast 56kg fighter swept aside all before him at the Irish U18s, comprehensively defeating Jack Connors in the final to book his place on the Irish team bound for the European youths.

That competition had been due to take place in April but, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, is now scheduled for November 11-23 in Montenegro.

Brady-McCullough shared the award with badminton’s Matthew Cheung.

It was a nice accolade for Hawkins jr too, who has become a stalwart of the Holy Trinity club through the years – following in the footsteps of his father, Michael sr.

“Michael has been around boxing with me for a long time,” said Hawkins sr.

“He was at every one of Damaen Kelly’s fights, even his last one in Italy. He’s always been there, he was everywhere with me.

“He’s in the club every single night with the juveniles and, no matter what, boxing just comes first. He’s on the ball with the Facebook page, and he just goes about everything quietly - you wouldn’t hear a word from him.

“Michael’s very steady, has a great way with the kids, so I’m delighted for him.”

Martin Brady-McCullough was joint winner in the junior male sports personality of the year award

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