Jude Gallagher ready to rumble in Sofia after frustrating lay-off

Jude Gallagher suffered a hand injury in his first fight after last summer's Commonwealth Games, but is now raring to go ahead of today's Strandja tournament return. Picture by PA
Jude Gallagher suffered a hand injury in his first fight after last summer's Commonwealth Games, but is now raring to go ahead of today's Strandja tournament return. Picture by PA Jude Gallagher suffered a hand injury in his first fight after last summer's Commonwealth Games, but is now raring to go ahead of today's Strandja tournament return. Picture by PA

JUDE Gallagher will put months of frustration to bed when he steps between the ropes at the Strandja tournament in Sofia today, with the Tyrone man determined to keep himself in the Olympic qualification frame.

The 21-year-old - who starred on the way to winning gold at last summer’s Commonwealth Games - suffered a hand injury on his first outing post-Birmingham, and missed the subsequent Ulster and Irish Elite Championships as a result.

However, four months on from that fateful fight at the Tammer tournament in Finland, Gallagher is ready to return to the fray with a tough assignment against Kazakh Orazbek Assylkulov this afternoon.

“I thought it was alright when it happened, but I caught the fella right on the top of the head and it was swollen up when the bandages came off.

“It just put a real spanner in the works. I got an x-ray that night and it wasn’t broke - it was so close to being broke, the hand specialist said it probably would’ve been better if it was broke because in five or six weeks it would’ve been healed up.

“It’s been footery and niggly… there was a bit of nerves when I was allowed to come back and punch on it. My first spar back, it was in my head, even though it was more of a move around.

“But I’m over it now - I’m very happy with how the hand feels, I’m throwing away and looking forward to getting back in there.”

And, with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) opting to boycott the upcoming IBA World Championships, the stakes are raised in Strandja as the clock ticks down to June’s first European Olympic qualifier in Poland.

In Gallagher’s absence, Paul Loonam staked his claim at the Irish elites by beating defending champion Adam Hession on the way to claiming the featherweight crown.

As a result, the Irish coaches opted to send both Gallagher and Hession to Bulgaria, with the Galway man – who is on the other side of the draw from his Ulster rival – taking on Turkey’s Ciftci Batuhan today.

Gallagher has never been one for over-thinking scenarios beyond his control, or getting bogged down in other people’s decisions. With 57kg one of the most keenly-contested weight divisions, he appreciates the tough calls Irish coaches will have to make.

Between performances at the High Performance unit, and when international opportunities arise, all he can do is grab his chance to impress.

“To be honest I haven’t talked too in-depth to the coaches about what they’re thinking. I’m just here to try and do the best I can, then come back and see what happens.

“Anybody can have a bad night or, like myself, anybody can miss a tournament through injury. You want to be fair to everybody and give everybody the best chance.

“I knew I was going to miss the Ulsters but the aim was to get back for the Irish elites, unfortunately it just didn’t turn out that way. But I was lucky enough to get invited down to Dublin, and I have my foot in the door.

“I’m just going to keep my head down and try and impress the coaches, then it’s up to them to pick the best man. That’s all you can ask for.”

Also in the ring today is Gallagher’s fellow Commonwealth Games gold medallist Dylan Eagleson – the St Paul’s stylist who, although currently campaigning at 54kg, could yet enter the featherweight frame for Olympic qualification at a later stage.

The 19-year-old European silver medallist, who won his first Irish Elite title last month, takes on Uzbekistan’s Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov in this evening’s Strandja session.

Olympic bronze medallist Aidan Walsh got back to winning ways yesterday when he proved too slick for Germany’s Deniel Krotter in Sofia, a date with India’s Dev Nishant this afternoon the reward for the west Belfast man.

The Irish coaches are also running the rule over Dean Walsh, who sprung an upset when defeating Aidan Walsh in the light-middleweight semi-final of the Irish elites.

The Wexford man got off to a flying start too, beating Aliaksandr Radzionau 5-0, while Jennifer Lehane and Niamh Fay also had their hands raised.

THE International Boxing Association (IBA) has revealed its own qualification system for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris - despite being stripped of the right to do so by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Having successfully run the boxing event at the delayed Tokyo 2020, the IOC confirmed last summer that it would continue that role Paris 2024 - including qualification competitions - due to concerns over governance issues within the sport’s world governing body.

However, the waters have been muddied after the IBA announced that it had "taken upon itself as the international governing body for boxing to provide a clear process and pathway" for athletes to qualify for the Games.

They also criticised the IOC for "numerous delays" on publishing a "clear" system.

This year’s IBA Women’s and Men’s World Championships have not been included in the revised criteria ratified by the IOC executive board last September, with the continental multi-sport events instead used as Olympic qualifiers.

The IBA said the IOC’s decision to exclude the World Championships was "not acceptable" and "against the principles of boxing", insisting that they will be the “main qualification events" under its own system.

“To give all athletes the right to compete at the World Boxing Championships and not be the victim of the political games of a few national federations, the IBA uses an open process for registration for athletes from the boycotting nations to compete at the World Boxing Championships,” read an IBA statement.

Yesterday’s announcement comes less than a fortnight after the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) followed America’s lead by deciding against sending teams to the next month’s women’s World Championships in New Delhi, and the men’s equivalent in Tashkent in May.

Great Britain, Germany, Lithuania, Czech Rep and Finland have also joined as part of a ‘Common Cause Alliance’.

Meanwhile, the IABA has contacted Irish referee and judges eligible for IBA events, warning that they “cannot be an IABA R&J at club, county, provincial and national level, or internationally,” should they officiate at IBA tournaments.

“We trust you to make the right decision for Irish boxing,” read a communication signed by IABA president Gerry O’Mahony and interim chair of the board of directors, Tom Geraghty.