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Comment: Sport NI can't afford to be complacent with Northern Ireland's 'overachieving' Commonwealth Games boxers

Northern Ireland's Aidan Walsh (red) in action against England's Pat McCormack (blue) during the Men's Welterweight (69kg) final at the Commonwealth Games
Northern Ireland's Aidan Walsh (red) in action against England's Pat McCormack (blue) during the Men's Welterweight (69kg) final at the Commonwealth Games

By David Kelly

Boxing continues to be Northern Ireland's most successful sport and that was rubber-stamped once more at the Commonwealth Games.

Eight out of the 12 competitors who donned the Northern Ireland vest will return home from the Games with a medal with the only missing piece a dash of golden glory, but the depth of young talent suggests that will be rectified in four years' time.

Having had such success on a shoe-string budget by comparison to some of the countries they faced, it is little wonder that head coach John Conlan stated they had "overachieved".

Indeed, there is a real threat of complacency creeping into Sport NI when it comes to funding the sport as it is simply assumed that our boxers will deliver on the international stage as a matter of fact.

But, that would be to forget the dark days of the 2002 and 2006 Games when issues over preparation and coaching led to the boxers returning empty-handed. The backbone of all the success are those coaches in various clubs who work tirelessly to develop talent and they should be rewarded with the opportunity to have modern facilities as well as the funds to send boxers on international trips - such as those organised by the forward-thinking Co Antrim Board.

Local elite amateurs have also benefited from the experience of working with the High Performance Unit in Dublin and Northern Ireland coach Conlan proved his worth again in regard to the planning that went into a three-month programme leading up to the Gold Coast assault, which finished with his team taking six silver and two bronze medals.

"We were up against the Team GB Olympic squad representing Wales, Scotland and England which has a £14m budget and the Indian Olympic squad which has had millions poured into their programme with top coaches drafted in from across the world," said Conlan.

This year's team was largely inexperienced on the international elite scene and there were clearly a few gems making good progress from the junior ranks, such as welterweight silver medallist Aidan Walsh and bronze medallist James McGivern.

Both Belfast men will have their sights on a shot at making it to the Tokyo Olympics, as will Rio representative Brendan Irvine and Lisburn bantamweight Kurt Walker.

On the women's front, Carly McNaul caused a stir with her silver medal-winning display, while fellow Belfast boxers Kristina O'Hara and Michaela Walsh expect to be chasing medals in four years in Birmingham.

The future looks quite bright but success shouldn't be taken for granted.

Belfast Telegraph

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