Boxing

High-flying Eagleson hoping to continue whirlwind rise at European Championships

A relatively inexperienced Irish team is in Yerevan for the European Championships
Neil Loughran

THE last six months have been a whirlwind for Dylan Eagleson – but the talented teenager hopes he can help Ireland maintain its momentum on the international stage when he steps between the ropes at the European Championships in Armenia.

Bangor bantamweight Eagleson makes his elite international bow today – indeed it will be his first-ever competitive elite outing - when he takes on Turkey’s Muhammet Acli. Up for grabs is a place in Friday’s quarter-finals, and a crack at Spanish number two seed Gabriel Escobar.

It is hard to believe that, after age prevented him entering the Ulster Elite Championships, the St Paul’s ace had no idea what his immediate future held, believing his shot at this summer’s Commonwealth Games had passed him by.

Since then, however, he has claimed the Irish U22 title, brought home bronze from March’s European U22 Championships, and booked his spot on the Commonwealth squad bound for Birmingham after impressing coaches during a week-long assessment.

And now, after again catching the eye during an elite training camp in Italy last month, Eagleson makes another step up in a career that already looked destined for big things.

“Day by day, you see him grow,” said Irish coach Zaur Antia.

The Georgian - fresh from last week’s brilliant gold medal success for Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke at the World Championships - leads a young and relatively inexperienced Irish team into battle in Yerevan.

For Eagleson, though, there is no fear of what lies ahead, just excitement at the opportunity to add to his burgeoning reputation.

“It’s been mad,” he smiles.

“Like, even with the Commonwealth selection, I thought that was over for me. When I heard they were having assessments it was like ‘happy days, I’ve got my shot now, just need to prove myself’.

“I went out, performed well, I was only back from the European U22s so I was still sharp, still fit. I was ready to go.

“Everything’s just happening at once so I have to embrace it and take every day as it comes. You

“When I was away sparring in Italy, I was just listening to the coaches, taking onboard what they were saying. I was sparring top, world class opponents and I was in there with them – there wasn’t much in it.

“That’s down to me listening to the coaches, and it just shows me that I can compete. I’ve boxed internationally, I was in America when I was a kid, I’ve had experience of going around the world – just not at this level.

“When I was younger always watched the likes of Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, and especially Brendan Irvine in my club – watching the way he trains, so professional, just watching and learning from what he did.

“He does everything correctly, and you can only learn from someone like that. It’s tough at elite level, I know that. I’m still growing too, but finally I’m here.”

And the expectation that comes with being touted for top is resting easily on his young shoulders.

“I perform better with that, definitely.

“I want to make everyone proud, I want to make sure I go out and do the business, take each round as it comes, each fight as it comes.”

Galway middleweight Gabriel Dossen got Ireland off to a winning start yesterday when he got the better of Spain’s Miguel Entrena Cuadrado to set up a last 16 clash with French fifth seed Moreno Fendero tomorrow.

SCHEDULE

Today

54kg round of 16: D Eagleson v M Acli (Turkey)

63.5kg round of 32: B McCarthy v J Tyers (England)

71kg round of 32: L Maguire v D Piotrowski (Poland)

Tomorrow

51kg preliminary round: S Mari v O Ametovic (Serbia)

57kg round of 16: A Hession v V Usturoi (Belgium)

60kg round of 16: JP Hale v A Khatev (Finland)

Thursday

67kg round of 16: E McKeever v V Abbasvo (Serbia)

92kg round of 16: J Marley v V Nanitzanian (Greece)

Friday

48kg quarter-final: R Nesbitt v E Sebahtin (Bulgaria)

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HALE AND McKEEVER CONTINUE LEARNING ON THE BIG STAGE

JOHN Paul Hale and Eugene McKeever were thrown in at the deep end when pitched into World Championship action just weeks after their maiden Irish Elite title triumphs, but that experience has helped sharpen them heading into the Europeans.

It was last November, less than a month after having their hands raised in Dublin, that Hale and McKeever, made the step up as part of an inexperienced Irish team that travelled to Belgrade.

And although both lost out in their first fights, the pair – who will be team-mates at the Commonwealths Games this summer too - have continued to grow and improve under the watchful eye of the Irish coaches. And, with more international rounds under their belts in the time between, stepping between the ropes at the European Championships is no longer the daunting task it might once have been.

Hale, boxing in the lightweight division, received a bye through the first round of preliminaries in Yerevan, and will meet Finnish number three seed Arslan Khatev in the round of 16 tomorrow evening.

Welterweight McKeever also received a bye, and faces a showdown with Serbia’s number two seed Vakjid Abbasvo on Thursday afternoon.

And the Mullaghbawn man believes he is growing into the international arena after that sink or swim scenario at the Worlds seven months ago.

“I’ve been competing internationally at youth level, but it’s different when you go to senior or elite championships,” said the 24-year-old.

“We were thrown into the deep end with the World Championships, that was my first major tournament, and you’re in against top class operators.

“You’re asking yourself questions when you hear these names, world number one, two or whatever, you’re thinking ‘what’s this guy made of?’ You can nearly waste a round giving them too much respect, then when you get out of the ring you realise you’re every bit as good as them, if not better. So you learn from things like that.

“But I feel like I know what it’s about - I’m more skilled, more well rounded than I was. It’s time for me to really get the results now.”

Irish coach Zaur Antia agrees, and has witnessed McKeever’s progression at close quarters.

“Eugene is a physically very strong boxer, but he had a lack of experience at this level,” said the Georgian.

“Already you can see he has improved - he is not the same Eugene McKeever now as he was months ago. He does many different things now which he never did before.

“He really wants this, and you can see he is really pushing himself. That’s why we like working with him.”

Antia has also seen big improvements in 20-year-old Hale, and believes the Star man has the tools to do well in the Armenian capital.

“Some boxers change more quickly, some a little bit late,” he said.

“John Paul has a different style, he is a fantastic boxer, and we are getting there. What he has, many people don’t have – very good timing, explosiveness, and he is very confident.”

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Holy Trinity won eight titles at the Ulster Championships at Corpus Christi, with Kyle Smith taking gold on the final day. The club finished with eight gold and two silver over the past two weekends. Unfortunately Mark Dawson had to withdraw from his final through injury

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Boxing