Team NI coach Damien Kennedy defends Commonwealth selection process

Team NI's boxing squad bound for this summer's Commonwealth Games was unveiled in Jordanstown yesterday. Absent from picture are Carly McNaul, Michaela Walsh and Amy Broadhurst - all currently in Turkey ahead of the World Championships - and coach Rory Rory McShane. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

COMMONWEALTH Games head coach Damien Kennedy has defended the selection process used to pick the team bound for Birmingham this summer.

Several club coaches have contacted The Irish News in recent weeks, questioning the behind-closed-doors nature of the assessment process, which took place in the last week of March.

No club coaches were permitted to attend those sessions in Jordanstown, with Ulster High Performance coaches running the rule over aspiring athletes before deciding on the 13-strong team announced yesterday.

The new weight classes for Birmingham 2022 were only confirmed after the Ulster Elite Championships had taken place in December, with some club coaches calling into question the transparency of the assessment process – and querying why public box-offs were not used instead.

Head coach Kennedy played a key role in those assessments at Jordanstown, and insists “the whole process was very open, honest and transparent”.

“Weight changes happened, we had to run assessments at those weight categories to give everybody the best chance possible,” said the Toome man, who is joined on the Team NI coaching team by Emerald’s JP Delaney, Star’s Liam Corr and Letterkenny’s Rory McShane, with Irish coach John Conlan as performance lead.

“Ideally, the Ulster championships ran at the specified weights would be perfect for helping you pick the team, but if you go back to look at Aidan Walsh and this assessment criteria - Aidan joined the national elites and he wasn’t the champion, but he came through that assessment process and went on to win a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.

“I think assessments are healthy, I believe they’re a huge part of this going forward… it keeps everybody on their toes, lets everybody know the number two is clipping at their heels.

“You could have somebody in the Ulster championships who had a bad day - I think it would be hugely unfair then just to exclude them from the process. I believe assessments are a good thing.”

Walsh and sister Michaela, a two-time Commonwealth silver medallist, are named on the team alongside fellow 2018 silver medallist Carly McNaul, super-heavy Damien Sullivan – who competed at the Gold Coast – and Commonwealth Games newcomers Nicole Clyde, Eireann Nugent, European bronze medallist Amy Broadhurst, Clepson dos Santos, Dylan Eagleson, Jude Gallagher, JP Hale, Eugene McKeever and middleweight Jake Tucker.

However, it was the absence of Tucker’s older brother Kane – an Irish U22 champion back in February, and a national champion at various different age grades – which caused shockwaves when speculation about team selection originally started to circulate weeks ago.

When asked about the Newry man’s omission, Kennedy said: “Unfortunately for Kane, he arrived here with a fresh injury in his hand, and stitches in it, and wasn’t able to really get involved in the assessment process.

“And then there was conflicting stories of how soon he would be back – somebody was saying one to three weeks, somebody was saying eight to 10 weeks. Part of the assessment criteria was to come here injury-free.

“Look, Kane’s an exciting talent, unfortunately this time it just didn’t work out for him, but I’ve no doubt in my mind that Kane Tucker will be back at international level very soon.

“Our focus now is on the team, and getting the team in the best place possible to go to these Games.”

Kennedy got to see them at close quarters during an international sparring camp in Italy last week, and admits he is “excited” by their potential in Birmingham.

“Although it’s a mixture of youth and experience, this team has the potential to shock. I really do believe that.

“A number of them have really performed in a world class sparring camp in Assisi… it blew me away. I really believe in their ability, each and every one of them.”

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