Sport

Seconds Out: Irvine relishing new role outside ropes as UU students flourish

Brendan Irvine and fellow coach Iain Mahood (far left) with Ulster University boxers Liam Roddy, Tom Ghee, Andy Manzano Matthew Shepherd and Nathan Boyle
Brendan Irvine and fellow coach Iain Mahood (far left) with Ulster University boxers Liam Roddy, Tom Ghee, Andy Manzano Matthew Shepherd and Nathan Boyle Brendan Irvine and fellow coach Iain Mahood (far left) with Ulster University boxers Liam Roddy, Tom Ghee, Andy Manzano Matthew Shepherd and Nathan Boyle

BRENDAN Irvine is getting used to life on the other side of the ropes – with no limit to learning for him or his fighters at Ulster University’s boxing club.

The two-time Olympian hasn’t laced up gloves since the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games and admits, at this stage anyway, it is unlikely he will again.

But, with a wealth of experience garnered from a career that saw him compete at World, European and Commonwealth level, Irvine has plenty more to offer.

By day he works as a community coach with the Ulster branch of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), while time is also devoted to training boxers of all levels who walk through the gym door at UU’s Jordanstown campus.

Back in January he was also at the National Stadium, scene of some of his most memorable nights, to help work the corner of Dylan Eagleson, a fellow St Paul’s fighter and one of the top emerging talents in Ireland.

“I keep in touch with Dylan,” says Irvine, “if he ever needs anything he knows he can lift the phone, whether it’s boxing related, coaching related or whatever.

“I’ll try and point him in the right direction.”

And while he picked up plenty of medals in his pomp, the 26-year-old admits he gets a buzz out of seeing others flourish under his charge.

Indeed, as UU navigates the relatively new world of boxing competition – having only affiliated with the IABA this year – considerable strides have been made already.

Boxers trained “four or five” nights as a team prepared for the British Universities Championships, with Monkstown’s Daryl Clarke – an Ulster elite champion back in 2020 - landing gold in Portsmouth.

“It was a great experience,” said Irvine.

“Daryl boxed out of his skin - there were a couple of good lads at his weight, boys knocking on the door of the national programme in GB, so he did really well.

“James McVicar was so unlucky, he was two rounds up in his semi-final and got cut in the last round. Unfortunately injury kept him out of the Irish Universities Championships too where Andy Manzano won gold at 75, Tom Ghee at 66kg, Matthew Shepherd at 63kg, then we had Liam Roddy going well too.

“There were referees and judges coming over to me saying ‘flip me, your boys are firing well’. These are boys that have never boxed. We had three winners out of four, which is some going considering they had no boxing experience whatsoever before September.”

McVicar has a decent bit of boxing pedigree with the Castleblayney club and, still a young man, has the potential to go further in the sport. Others, meanwhile, could try their hand at the Antrim novice championships next month as they see what is possible.

“You’re always learning, that’s the thing about boxing.

“Around the time of the British Universities Championships I would’ve brought them down to St Paul’s as well and let them join the sessions there. Even for them watching the young kids at the club – the likes of wee Robert Quinn there – they’re blown away, and they pick up wee things then off the kids too.

“My main objective is to do the basics really well – that’s what was winning them the fights down in Dublin. Good jab, one two, one two, nothing complicated.

“If you get the fundamentals right you can master anything.”

As for himself, adapting to life outside the ropes has been more straightforward than anticipated – with the guts of a decade spent in the Irish High Performance system giving him plenty to call upon as his coaching career takes flight.

“The structuring, the training, having to think what to do for the lads – that’s what’s different.

“When I was studying for my strength and conditioning diploma, you’re learning about periodisation, structuring training programmes for the year, taper, competition, rest and recovery, it was good to learn all that because for years I was just showing up to Dublin or Jordanstown going ‘I wonder why we’re doing all this?’

“Now you’re able to implement that for the benefit of these guys.”

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Star's Dillon Donnelly pictured with coaches Liam Corr and Paddy Mullan
Star's Dillon Donnelly pictured with coaches Liam Corr and Paddy Mullan Star's Dillon Donnelly pictured with coaches Liam Corr and Paddy Mullan

ULSTER WINNERS AT IRISH CHAMPIONSHIPS

THERE were three Ulster winners at the Irish Boy/Girl 4 championships – with several others shaping up nicely going into the weekend’s national junior 2 championship finals.

Daithi McNamee, from the Two Castles club in Newtownstewart, got the ball rolling with a unanimous decision victory over Cherry Orchard’s Louis Canning at 31kg, forcing a standing count towards the end of the first round in an impressive display that saw him claim a third Irish title.

Next in was all-action Dillon Donnelly in the 33kg decider, the Star man powering to victory over Gary McDonagh, stalking his Kilcullen opponent relentlessly and landing strong shots to body and head on the way to a clean sweep with the judges.

Gleann’s Jordie Cooke completed the hat-trick up at 85kg, the 6”4 15-year-old – who landed bronze at the European Schools’ Championships in Turkey last August – taking a 4-1 split decision win over Clonmel’s Lewis Hackett.

Meanwhile, aiming to bring more medals up the road are a clutch of talented young fighters going for gold in the junior 2 finals.

Lisburn’s Mia Welch booked her place in the 46kg final with a unanimous decision victory over Curadh’s Chantel Balfe, while Cormac Fegan impressed in his 48kg semi-final win against Drimnagh’s William Mongan.

The Holy Trinity teenager swept to a 5-0 win on the cards, and will face Ratoath’s Daniel Philips in the final.

The Turf Lodge club have two other other boxers targeting titles, with Cormac Curley seeing off John O’Reilly (St Munchin’s) to set up a 54kg decider with Martin McDonagh after the Avona fighter took a split decision win over Johnny Harty (Portlaoise).

Trinity middleweight Jude Molyneaux, meanwhile, comes up against Padraig Corduff (St Anne’s) after coming out the right side of a 4-1 split against Joe O’Hara from Twin Towns.

Clonard’s classy Jamie Graham proved too strong for Oakleaf’s Carra McHugh at flyweight, and takes on Marble City’s Jack Johnson in the 52kg final after he got the better of Tipperary Town’s Willie Harty.

The girls’ semi-finals and boys’ finals take place at the National Stadium on Saturday, with the girls’ finals on Sunday from 2.30pm.

Irish boy 4 champion Daithi McNamee celebrates with dad Marty, mum Laura and sister Cobhlaith after his weekend win at the National Stadium. Other Two Castles boxers who put up impressive displays in Dublin were Conan McSorley and Ronan McBrearty
Irish boy 4 champion Daithi McNamee celebrates with dad Marty, mum Laura and sister Cobhlaith after his weekend win at the National Stadium. Other Two Castles boxers who put up impressive displays in Dublin were Conan McSorley and Ronan McBrearty Irish boy 4 champion Daithi McNamee celebrates with dad Marty, mum Laura and sister Cobhlaith after his weekend win at the National Stadium. Other Two Castles boxers who put up impressive displays in Dublin were Conan McSorley and Ronan McBrearty