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My dad will be looking down on me as I go for Commonwealth Games glory: Irvine

 

By David Kelly

Medal contender Brendan Irvine says his late father James continues to be an inspiration for him as the Belfast man looks ahead to his assault on the Commonwealth Games.

Irvine, who competed at the Rio Olympics two years ago, is gunning for glory at flyweight - believing that the Northern Ireland boxing team can once again do the country proud on the Games stage next month.

Coached by Ralph McKay in Belfast's St Paul's club, Irvine has rapidly developed into a world-class amateur boxer and is one of the main hopes to bring home some hardware from the Gold Coast.

It could easily have been so different for the 21-year-old as at just 11 years of age he lost his father to liver failure but Irvine revealed it was the discipline of the sport which kept him on the straight and narrow along with the support of mum Brenda and coach McKay.

"Boxing was my saviour. The 10th anniversary of my dad passing away recently took place and that day remains crystal clear in my mind. I generally have a bad memory but I can remember that day and how painful it was," said Irvine.

"It was a horrible time, it was very hard and when it happened I didn't go to the club for a couple of weeks but because of the nature of boxing, going to the club every night helped me a lot. I had that routine and boxing kept me on the right track - it kept me from going off the rails.

"All the coaches in the gym at the time were a great help to me, a great support and Ralph has been like a second father to me. He has always been there to give me support. The whole club was a very close unit and I'll never forget all the support I received. That kept me going.

"I know my dad is still looking down on me and I know if he was here now he would have been travelling the world with me to see me box.

"I'm going out to the Games to get the gold and if I get it then it will be a very proud moment for me and my whole family and I know how much my dad would be proud of me."

Irvine walked into his local club, at the time Gleann, when just nine years of age and admits that it took a couple of years before he settled down and started to realise that he had been blessed with the ability to pick up the fundamentals very quickly.

"When I first went into the gym I was a wee messer. I just wanted to mess around with the older lads and have some craic. But Ralph could obviously see that I had a bit of potential and wanted to shape me into a boxer.

"So, when I started to listen and try out the things he was teaching me then everything just clicked and I never looked back," added Irvine.

"I started to win things and that's when my whole life just became all about boxing. I would go training before I went to secondary school in the morning and then after school that night. My whole dream was to go to the Olympics and I achieved that in 2016 in Rio so everything else is now a bonus.

"Although I got good grades in my GCSEs, my school ended when the Irish head coach asked me to box against France for Ireland. I decided then I wouldn't be doing A-levels and I have been focused on my boxing ever since.

"It hasn't been easy and I don't think people realise the sacrifices that have to be made, particularly financially. For a long time I had no funding, so I was travelling down to Dublin on a Tuesday, coming home on the Friday at 4pm and then going straight to work in a restaurant over the weekend to have enough diesel money to get me up and down to the High Performance unit every week.

"Because I won a European silver medal I got funding but then that was cut in half because I went out in the first round of the Olympics - even though I lost to the Olympic champion and I was just 19.

"It got raised again when I won a European bronze medal last year but it just shows you that apart from wanting to do well because that's what every sportsman wants, the level of funding for the following year is also on the line every time you enter a big competition."

As he looks ahead to the Games, Irvine believes the whole team has gone through the ideal preparation under head coach John Conlan at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown facilities over the past three months.

"It's been one of the hardest camps that I have been at and hopefully all that hard work will be seen with how we perform at the Games," he added.

"Physically and technically I believe that we have all improved in this camp. The heavy loading at the start was very, very tough but as that has been brought down and we have tapered we have got sharper and sharper and we are all ready to go and give it our best shot. I believe there's a lot of medals in this team."

Belfast Telegraph

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