Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Ulster boxing on the ropes

If this is the Year of the Dog in China, it has been a dog of a year in amateur boxing.

If this is the Year of the Dog in China, it has been a dog of a year in amateur boxing.

And astride a mountain of negativity in the game is an embattled Ulster president, Pat McCrory.

Once, Ulster was the doyen of all four provincial councils, "the flagship of the IABA," as Ireland's president put it, but that is yesterday's news.

Today, the sport here is facing a real crisis, suffocated by competitive standards at an all-time low, and an icy blast in relations between Belfast and Dublin.

And for this, prize-winning coach, Gerry Storey, has heaped most blame on what he feels is an impotent management team.

"It's true that Belfast could have hosted next summer's European Union championships," says Gerry.

"Instead, we bid for a less prestigious event just prior to the Europeans, and the ABA, quite rightly, slapped a veto on it. Ulster missed the boat badly, and should be finding fault with nobody but themselves."

Dominic O'Rourke made the 300-mile round-trip from Athy to be guest at a sparsely attended convention in Belfast, and clearly went home unimpressed. After a sometimes stormy meeting that ended in a slanging match, Ireland's president commented: "I've been here five hours, and heard little of benefit to young boxers, or the sport in general."

To which vice-president Tommy Murphy, the Mayor of Drogheda, added candidly: "There was too much argy-bargy and sword-play. I meant it when I said Ulster is now the Association's weak link. Maybe the head man's power and influence is waning, who knows?"

Nobody is more aware of the sharp decline in boxing standards than Holy Trinity's Mickey Hawkins, the coach whose omission from this year's Commonwealth Games team hinted of the absurd.

Not only does Michael agree with Storey that an autocratic Council must be held accountable for a proud sport's downward spiral, especially at Commonwealth and national level, he feels that coaching standards, too, have dropped, and need a shot in the arm.

Like an injection of new ideas, energy, and money. "Coaching methods and techniques haven't taken one step forward in five years," he sighs, "and if our coaches are not improving, how can you expect boxing standards to improve?"

Boxing people talk a lot and often say nothing, but this was one time when it made sense to listen.

"Why," asked Hawkins at the convention, "was somebody with no six-county ties allowed to box in our Senior championships out of a Belfast club in which he wasn't a member?

"And for Ulster's Games' squad to have been finalised, or ranked, in haste over the phone without President Pat knowing about it was a downright disgrace.

"Such pussy-footing around must never happen again, but you can be sure it will!"

Ulster is the ABA's richest Council with over £60,000 in the bank or £50,000 more than Leinster so what reason could there be, queried Derry Board delegates, O'Kane and Duffy, for not providing regular, and better, competition for good boxers, or being more generous with out-of-pocket expenses?

Sadly, muddled reasoning cost Belfast a golden chance of that week-long EU tournament, but chairman McCrory's attempt to clear the air sounded less than convincing, and O'Rourke and the glib-tongued Murphy won a heated argument on points. Pat, as Ulster's leader, may never win a popularity contest, but who is there strong enough to fill his shoes? Just asking!

Meanwhile, Charlie (Chuck) Flanagan, whose death has saddened us all, was a throwback from the Chapel Fields' era.

"A great old warrior and gentleman," is how Paddy Graham remembers him.

"Andy Smyth, once Britain's best referee, ranked him among the most honest boxers he ever knew."

Chuck was 90 and a Shore Road man.

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