Boxers Kurt Walker and Jason McKay on rise
Not since a swashbuckling Brian Magee was making his way up the international ladder has there been such a buzz around Lisburn amateur boxing with both Kurt Walker and Jason McKay tipped for the very top.
Both lads hail from the Canal boxing club, which was only founded five years ago by Noel Reynolds and Jim Russell, and recently continued their relentless run of success by lifting Irish intermediate titles.
Earlier this year Walker won silver at the European Youth championships at bantamweight, having won 2012 bronze at the World Youth championships.
In addition to that he has bagged eight straight Irish titles and recently showed his class when defeating British number one Luke McCormick in an Ireland-England international at Westport.
Along with Reynolds and Russell, Paddy McKay – Jason's father – coaches at the club and he has no doubt that a golden future awaits Walker whose sights are now set on senior success in 2014 – including the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
McKay said: "Kurt is a very elusive boxer but he can box on the back foot and on the front foot. I would say that he is the full package.
"He has had a great junior career to this point and now he is looking ahead to success as a senior boxer.
"The first target is the Ulster senior championships next month. He's at the same weight as Michael Conlan but we don't know whether or not Conlan will compete in the Ulsters.
"Conlan would obviously be favourite to take the bantamweight place for the Commonwealth Games but I have no doubt that given the time, Kurt can reach the level Conlan has got to.
"He's already been down training with the High Performance guys in Dublin and I would like to think that next year he will become a member of the High Performance set-up.
"He's a very dedicated lad and I know that the High Performance boss Billy Walsh thinks very highly of him. It's obviously a step up moving into senior boxing but I am very confident that he can do very well."
Walker's success since he was 11 has largely run parallel with that of McKay's 17-year-old son Jason, who won the 52kg Irish intermediate title – having won European Youth silver last year.
"Boxing has worked miracles for Jason. To be honest without boxing I don't know where he'd be – it has kept him on the straight and narrow," said McKay.
"We all know that the demons are out there, to take young men down the wrong path. But Jason is very dedicated, he gets up for his run before going to work as an apprentice electrician between 8am and 4pm and then it's off to training for 7.30pm.
"I think Jason and Kurt have been good for each other, they have pushed each other and been very supportive of each other over the years.
"Jason was the youngest competitor at the Irish intermediates and his big goal for 2014 will be the Youth Olympics."
With both lads on the rise, it is little wonder the club – whose president is former world champion Barry McGuigan – is filled with expectation for all the young lads who walk through the door.
"Since September we have won 11 titles so we couldn't be happier with the boys," added McKay.