THERE will be many Irish boxers watching on with interest when June’s European Games take place in Poland – with rising star Dylan Eagleson among them.
That multi-sport event in Krakow-Ma?opolska offers boxers a first crack at reaching the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, although they must go deep into the competition to secure their spot.
At the seven men’s weights up for debate, the qualification places up for grabs are 51kg (2), 57kg (4), 63.5kg (4), 71kg (4), 80kg (4), 92kg (2) and 92+kg (2), while at the six women’s weights it is 50kg (4), 54kg (4), 57kg (4), 60kg (4), 66kg (4) and 75kg (2).
It is understood that, following weeks of behind-closed-doors assessments in Abbotstown, the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) has nominated a team, with the Olympic Federation of Ireland responsible for formal selection. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
Eagleson is not in the frame for Poland, but St Paul’s coach Ralph McKay hopes he can still have a say in the Olympic shake-up further down the line, depending on whether Ireland’s 57kg pick – either Adam Hession or Tyrone’s Jude Gallagher – nails down their spot for Paris.
The Bangor teenager, who turns 20 later this month, won his first Irish elite title at 54kg in January, and it has been a balancing act in terms of building him up into featherweight as he continues to fill out.
McKay, though, is confident the Commonwealth Games gold medallist is heading in the right direction. And with another Irish Elite Championships planned for the latter part of 2023, an opportunity could yet arise for Eagleson to join the mix.
“Dylan was walking around about 56 kilos, the heaviest he’d ever have been was probably 57, so he was comfortable fighting at 54,” he said.
“Those boys are coming down from 63 kilos to do 57 – Dylan still has a young boy’s body, he hasn’t developed into a man’s body yet, so the physicality wasn’t there.
“We said after the last Irish elites we would start looking at moving to 57. He has been doing conditioning work and filling out… he’s probably walking around nearly 60 kilos, so I’d say at the next competition he’ll be jumping into the 57 category.
“When you’re working with kids for a long time, you gauge their strength and physicality… it’s a natural thing. I would say Dylan still has another 18 months to grow and develop.”
In that time McKay would like to see him kept busy after a whirlwind 12 months.
Indeed, this time last year Eagleson hadn’t yet boxed at elite level, announcing his arrival by picking up a silver medal at the European Championships in Armenia.
Three months later he emerged as one of the stars of the Commonwealth Games, producing some impressive performances on the way to topping the podium in Birmingham.
However, with the IABA joining a host of other nations in boycotting competitions run by the International Boxing Association (IBA) – including this month’s World Championships in Tashkent – it has left international options for top class competition harder to come by.
“They’re talking about doing a camp in Germany, then a multi-nations after that. I still think it’s harsh on boxers because they become the political football when the people in suits should be hammering it out behind closed doors,” said McKay.
“Even the juniors and youths coming through, instead of tournaments where there’s 20, 30, 40 countries, they’re going to a multi-nations with four or five. It’s crazy.
“The kids know now what’s going on and they’re fed up with it. They’re asking ‘what am I boxing for?’ That’s where you see the fatigue – not training as hard as they used to because there’s not the same thing at the end of it.
“I can’t understand the logic of pulling out of these tournaments because they’re run by the IBA, then you go to Strandja and there’s IBA flags flying all around it. What’s the difference?
“At the start of the year we were looking at the Worlds as a major competition for Dylan – there was also the possibility of fairly significant prize money.
“That’s another consideration when deciding athletes can’t compete at these tournaments, because then they’re wondering where their funding opportunities are. Everybody needs money to live, no matter what they’re doing.”
Eagleson boxed on the recent Bridges Beyond Boxing show at Belfast’s Beechlawn Hotel, stopping his American opponent in the first round. McKay hopes he can go on the return leg of that trip when an Irish select heads Stateside in September, while the Haringey Cup – which takes place in London in June - is also an option.
“It’s important he stays active and gets the opportunity to build on what he has already achieved, because Dylan’s a big talent,” said McKay.
“Dylan’s only been an elite boxer for a year - he needs all the experience he can get.”
BOXING MOURNS PASSING OF HUGH McGAVOCK
FORMER Ulster senior championship finalist Hugh McGavock passed away recently, writes Denis O’Hara.
The heavy-handed welterweight started in juvenile boxing with the Coleraine club under coach George Loughery, and then the Derry Sports Club, where the trainer was professional flyweight Jim Loughery. Then it was under Drumsurn coach, ex-professional lightweight Tommy Bleeks, before rejoining Coleraine in 1958.
During this period the Cushendun-born McGavock lived with his farming family at Culcrow, Aghadowey.
He was part of a three-pronged fighting family. His brothers Harry, a light-heavyweight known as 'Bob Bopper’ and also as a loquacious MC at professional and amateur shows (who also died recently), and the eldest, Alex, who won the 1966 Irish junior and Ulster senior light-heavyweight championships and was a national cross-country champion and Ulster miler.
After the family moved to Belfast in 1959 to enter the vintner's trade, Hugh resumed boxing activity with the once famous Crown club, where the trainer was the legendary Arthur Anderson.
In that Belfast centre gym were fellow welterweight Sean Hawkins, an Ulster senior title winner, and Ulster and Irish middleweight champion Barney Burns.
Late ex-international Burns emigrated to Coventry and boxed out of the Solihull club. McGavock moved to England for work too, joining the Coventry Edgewick Trades Hall club - also the home of future British heavyweight champion Danny McAlinden of Newry, Galway-born Irish international welterweight Sean Harty and Belfast-born Irish bantamweight international Jimmy Henry.
The trainer there was former Enniskillen boxer, the gravel voiced Jim Tracey.
McGavock, who lost to future British professional welterweight champion Bobby Arthur in the ABA Midlands final, returned to Belfast to contest the 1965 Ulster welterweight championship. He lost in the final to Doagh's Billy Turkington, an opponent Hugh previously defeated in a club show at Carrickfergus Town Hall.
After packing in competitive boxing until a later return as a heavyweight under Gerry Storey in the Holy Family club, he ran a successful tarmac business.