Seconds Out: Reaching out with mental health support when it is needed most

Michaela Walsh is one of the Irish boxers who will take part in this week's international training camp at Jordanstown, as preparation for June's European Olympic qualifier continues. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

WHEN Ricky Hatton talks, people listen – and that was the case last Wednesday night as club coaches and boxers from across the north tuned in for a special online event run by the County Antrim Boxing Board.

But it is isn’t just the former two-time world champion who has shared his story in a bid to show others they are not alone in their struggles, no matter what they may be.

Over recent months the County Antrim Board, as part of the Belfast Boxing Strategy, have run a series of ‘positive mental health’ workshops involving some of Ireland’s current and past high performance boxers.

Three-time Olympian Paddy Barnes, Kellie Harrington, Carly McNaul, Kurt Walker and Brendan Irvine are among those who have talked and taken questions in a bid to keep alive that link between boxers, their clubs and their communities.

“Ricky’s a coach now as well, he’s boxed, he’s managed, he’s looking out for his son now who’s turned pro, but he’s also had his struggles,” said Liam Corr, a Belfast Boxing Strategy development officer.

“After Ricky’s workshop there was people posting to say it was the kick up the backside they needed to get back out motivated with their training.

“Obviously with the clubs being closed, we’re keeping in constant contact so they know what the restrictions are, sending out training plans through our two coaches so they know what to do at home.

“Some of the feedback we were getting back was that, even when the clubs were open last time, they were finding it hard to engage with their boxers because there was no competition. Some of the coaches were finding it hard to get motivated too because they were outdoor training for nothing.

“So we wanted to put something in place to try and reach out to those younger boxers who you could potentially lose, to show them they’re not the only ones feeling like this - they’re not the only ones struggling.

“We’ve always done mental health workshops but we’re now looking at how to make it a part of our overall boxing strategy for next year.

“The high performance guys were happy to have a chat about it – they have a bit more leniency because they have been able to train since last summer, but there’s still been very little in the way of competition for them.

“All five had a story, and for young boxers to hear the likes of Brendy Irvine talk about being out for 18 months but somehow keeping his focus, keeping training, it shows what can be done. Not to give up.”

The message to all young boxers from ‘The Hitman’, as well as the high performance boxers, was clear – stay ready.

Last month Ulster Boxing chief Kevin Duffy said he hoped clubs in the North would be able to open their doors by May, depending on the gradual easing of restrictions by the Stormont Executive.

That would hopefully pave the way for a return to competition once the boxing season gets under way in September, while exhibition bouts or competitions could be run during the summer months on a trial basis.

“When we do get back, there will still be restrictions in place, there’s going to be a new way of working so we’re going to have to do something to trial it out. You have to run some kind of test event to know how we’re running,” said Corr, who is also a club coach at Star ABC in north Belfast.

“We’re in a time now where everything’s been stopped for that long, everybody’s just keen to get back as soon as it’s safe to do so, even if that is the summer when they’re normally off.

“That’s what we’ve been telling boxers - you never know when things can change, but they will change. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, the sport has been here forever and we will be back.”


Brendan Irvine booked his spot at Tokyo 2020 in the opening days of the European Olympic qualifier in March 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic saw the competition suspended. Picture by PA


SPECULATION is mounting that the European Olympic qualifier – the last chance saloon for several Irish fighters to book their spot at Tokyo 2020 – could yet take place in London in June.

The competition got under way at the Copper Box Arena in March 2020 but was postponed just three days in due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the English capital still subject to severe restrictions, the International Olympic Committee’s Boxing Task Force (BTF) announced earlier this year that the qualifier would not resume in London – and last month the BTF confirmed that the remainder of the event would take place in Paris from June 4-8.

However, at the weekend France entered its third national lockdown, with all schools and non-essential shops shut for four weeks and a curfew put in place.

The roadmap out of lockdown offered by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, offers more hope of a gradual easing and a return to some kind of normality by June – opening the door for the BTF, who meet this week, to potentially reconsider its options as the Covid-19 situation continues to evolve.

Meanwhile, preparations for that qualifier will step up this week as the number one teams from France, Italy and Great Britain will take part in a training camp at Ulster University’s Jordanstown campus from tomorrow until next Monday.

A series of test matches and a round-robin competition are expected to take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

GB will be bringing 17 boxers, including all 12 who will compete at the European qualifier.

“These types of camps are very good preparation for the boxers,” said performance director Rob McCracken.

“It gives us a chance to train in a different environment with good quality opponents and freshen ourselves up ahead of a busy few months.

“Both Ireland and France have very strong teams and having the opportunity to spar with their boxers will be good for our squad as we look to increase the intensity of our training in preparation for the Olympic qualifier in June.”

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