Boxing

Seconds Out: Jude Gallagher hoping wait is worth the weight when boxing returns

Jude Gallagher and Colm Murphy produced a firecracker contest in the quarter-finals of the Ulster Elite Championships last year, before boxing ground to a halt as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

INACTIVITY has been the bane of 99 per cent of boxers in Ireland for the past 12 months - Jude Gallagher is no different. To the point that he found himself eyeing up the odd cow carcass hanging out the back of the family butchers, imagining the satisfying thud of sinking a left hook into the ribs.

“I couldn’t say I haven’t thought about it once or twice,” he laughs, “but here, I’ve been glad to have the work. It gets me out of the house.”

February 18, 2020 was the last time Two Castles ace Gallagher laced up gloves, a frenetic, adrenaline-fuelled tear-up with Colm Murphy at the Devenish Complex, the stand-out fight on the opening night of the Ulster Elite Championships.

It was also his first bout as a 57 kilo fighter, having forced himself into the Olympic qualifying reckoning with a series of hugely impressive displays to capture the Irish flyweight crown just three months earlier.

Just weeks after his 18th birthday, Gallagher burst onto the senior scene in spectacular style by dispatching defending flyweight champion Adam Hession before beating the fancied Regan Buckley in the final.

Unfortunately, though, his frame could no longer hold out to his body’s steady development from boy to man and, by the time he was named in the Irish squad due for the Bocskai Memorial tournament in Hungary at the beginning of February 2020, a rethink had already been required.

Making 52 was no longer an option. Brendan Irvine would go on to seal his Olympic spot in London six weeks later, while Gallagher embarked on a new journey.

Drawing St George’s Duracell bunny Murphy in his first 57kg fight was a baptism of fire at his new weight. Yet, although he narrowly lost out after a ding-dong battle that could have gone either way, the experience has stood to him, even a year down the line.

“It was a good tough fight to move into the weight,” said the 19-year-old, who won bronze at the 2018 European Youth Championships.

“You definitely notice the physical strength, compared to at 52 where I was massive, I was towering above lads there but you notice when you go up and you’re not totally filled out yet.

You’re throwing your hardest shots and men are still standing there with you, they’re not backing off just as easy. But you have to adapt to it and I will.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength and conditioning, two or three times a week for the last lot of months so I’m definitely getting bigger and filling into it far more.

“Obviously then I had only just moved up to featherweight and the extra time in the last year has maybe helped me fill out into the weight more. I’m not even sitting too heavy now, probably about 62 kilo or thereabouts, I’m not too bad.

“But I feel like a proper solid 57 now.”

Not having any kind of defined calendar of tournaments to work towards is proving a challenge for fighters across the country, as boxing eagerly awaits the green light not just for clubs to reopen once more, but for competition to begin.

Those Ulster Elites, wrapped up by the end of February 2020, were the last any of us saw of boxers in vests on those shores, with the outlook uncertain for the remainder of the year as Ireland tentatively attempts to plots a way out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gallagher has been training on his own as much as possible for the past 12 months but finally got down to see his coach and current pro Eric Donovan last month.

‘Lilywhite Lightning’ Donovan lost out to Matchroom prospect Zelfa Barrett last August, but showed he belongs at that level as he bids to bounce back in an international super-featherweight contest in Belgium on March 20.

Gallagher can only dream of having a date to work towards, but knows he has to remain focused in case the situation changes in the months ahead.

“I was down with Eric at the Celtic Warriors gym last for a bit of training, I’ll get down once or twice a week now but before that it was very hard, there wasn’t a lot happening. You were just training at home, doing our own stuff.

“I’ve a lot of mates I try and keep the running up with but motivation is tough when there’s nothing on the horizon as such.

“You’re used to being told there’s things coming up and now there’s not – the U22s were meant to be in November, I’d have gone into them, then the elites were supposed to be in January, I was preparing nicely for them and then they were cancelled a couple of weeks before Christmas.

“It’s disheartening because I was looking forward to them. The main thing for now is just to keep yourself fit because you could get word of a championship in six weeks’ time and you’ve to get yourself ready.

“It’s been frustrating… it’ll be interesting to see over the next year what a lot of boxers will do. It’s wild for younger boxers starting out, a lot will lose interest, and then boys will go pro too because it’s the only boxing that’s happening at the minute.”

Moving that direction is not on Gallagher’s mind just yet though.

When boxing does resume, sights will soon turn to not just the truncated next Olympic cycle building towards the 2024 Games in Paris, but also next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

With Kurt Walker expected to turn over to the paid ranks after the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the 57kg will be up for grabs – and with Gallagher, Murphy and reigning Ulster champion JP Hale in the mix, there will be shortage of contenders for that spot.

“I’ve still a lot of things I want to do in the amateurs - if I ever do go pro I’d like to have a bit more of an amateur pedigree behind me,” he said.

“The Commonwealths would definitely be achievable, and then the Olympics is still a big dream. I’d love to experience that, it would be something else, but I’m just taking small steps now and seeing where we go.”

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Boxing