Boxing

Coach Harry Hawkins 'stunned' by Kane Tucker's Commonwealths omission

Emerald coach Harry Hawkins pictured in 2019 with talented Tucker brothers, Jake and Kane. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

EXPERIENCED coach Harry Hawkins says he is “absolutely stunned” by the omission of light-heavyweight Kane Tucker from the Northern Ireland boxing team bound for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.

Hawkins has coached both Tucker brothers - Kane and Jake - at west Belfast club Emerald for the past four years, and even through the dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic, sights remained firmly fixed on achieving their Commonwealth goal.

However, while middleweight Jake and three other boxers from the Emerald stable – siblings Aidan and Michaela Walsh, and super-heavyweight Damien Sullivan, as well as coach JP Delaney – will all travel to Birmingham, Kane Tucker was not included.

“Honestly, I thought it was a joke when we were first told a few weeks back. I’m absolutely stunned,” said Hawkins.

“To me, Aidan Walsh, Michaela Walsh, Kane Tucker, that would be your top three choices in terms of starting the selection process. I don’t think anybody in boxing would argue that.

“Emerald has four boxers going to the Commonwealth Games, JP Delaney is going as coach, and we’re delighted with that achievement, it’s great for the club. But we firmly believe Kane should be there as well - it has taken the gloss off it from a club point of view.”

A reigning Irish U22 champion, who has won a host of national titles coming through the ranks, the Newry man’s omission came as a shock when speculation about team selection originally started to circulate weeks ago.

Speaking at the official Team NI announcement on Wednesday, head coach Damian Kennedy said Tucker had arrived at the assessment camp in Jordanstown at the end of March with “a fresh injury in his hand” and that “he 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,” added the Toome man, “part of the assessment criteria was to come here injury-free.”

Tucker sustained a broken thumb in his Irish U22 final victory over Jason Myers on February 5, before undergoing surgery in London 10 days later.

And Hawkins insists that – with boxing not getting und2er way at the Commonwealths until July 29 – there was “more than adequate recovery time”.

“The injury occurred on the fifth of February – a full six months before the Commonwealth Games.

“Instead of waiting on an NHS operation Kane went to London, at great expense, to get the hand sorted. So Damian Kennedy saying it was a fresh injury with stitches and he couldn’t get involved in the assessment… everything that was asked of him in the assessment, he did. Even getting into the ring and using one hand, which the High Performance asked him to do.

“We knew that, from the time he had the operation done on February 15, it was an eight week recovery. The week before the assessments, we went back to London where the surgeon removed a small wire from his thumb, then two soluble stitches were put back in again. That’s how he arrived at the assessment.

“With hand injuries, it’s all about making sure you don’t go too early and set things back. It didn’t cross my mind once that he wouldn’t be selected, not for one second.”

Hawkins revealed that, despite the disappointment, Tucker has continued training – including doing pads – and expects him to be back sparring in the coming weeks.

“I am somebody who believes in the High Performance system, that the High Performance should be picking the team.

“But I can’t for the life of me see that – if you’re picking the best team to go to the Commonwealth Games this summer – that Kane Tucker isn’t on it. It’s a real shocker.

“The bone knitted perfectly, it’s still a bit tender, a bit sore, but he’s ready to go. We’re training away, I’ve put his name forward for a team going out to America soon. The Commonwealths team is going to the Eindhoven Cup at the start of June - I’ve no doubt he’ll be punching by then.

“The hand injury certainly would not have affected him by the time the Commonwealth Games comes around. I just can’t get my head around how, and why, this decision was made.”

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