Head coach happy with the blend of youth and experience that will go for gold in Birmingham
The blend of youth and experience can set the Team NI boxers up for a successful Commonwealth Games, according to head coach Damian Kennedy.
The 13-strong team was officially confirmed yesterday with a media session at the Sport Institute of Northern Ireland (SINI) in Ulster University, Jordanstown and it contains Olympians, veterans of the 2018 Commonwealth Games and some of the new kids on the block who have already begun making waves on the international circuit.
Michaela Walsh, Carly McNaul and Amy Broadhurst were absent yesterday as they have already left for the Women’s World Championships in Turkey that officially open on Friday, while European U22 bronze medallist Dylan Eagleson, JP Hale and Eugene McKeever have been selected on the Ireland men’s team that will compete at the European Championships in Armenia later this month.
Add in Olympic bronze medallist Aidan Walsh and Damien Sullivan who has returned for a second Commonwealth Games after a brief flirtation with pro boxing, plus Clepson Dos Santos and Nicole Clyde who were both involved in the recent European U22s, and there seems real cause for optimism ahead of this summer’s Games in Birmingham.
“I had a few of these guys at the European U22s and it was a great experience for them in terms of their development,” said Kennedy.
“Each and every one can perform and rise to the occasion. Although there is a mixture of youth and experience, it’s mainly all younger lads and girls, I believe it has the potential to shock.
“We have Olympians there like Aidan and Michaela; Amy Broadhurst is a multiple European champion; Carly McNaul is getting better all the time - then we have the younger generation. They are all very exciting and eager to get going, so it’s the potential to be a very good team.
“We will focus on getting this team prepared as best we can and when we get to the competition, it will be about performance with one fight at a time and no looking beyond that.”
Amateur boxing’s governing body, IBA (formerly AIBA), opted to introduce changes to the weight categories from the start of this year and that left boxers with a decision to make in terms of where they would campaign and the knock-on effect resulted in Kennedy, Performance Lead John Conlan and the rest of the coaches with decisions to make in regards who would make up the team heading to Birmingham.
Some boxers like Jack McGivern and Caitlin Fryers - who is set to fight at the World Championships - will have been left disappointed they didn’t make the cut, but Kennedy insists the process to decide who was selected was a level playing field for all.
“The Commonwealth Games gave us these weight categories, so we ran the assessments which were very open, honest and transparent,” he stressed.
“We selected the team from those assessments and unfortunately some missed out. Those who did miss out are seriously talented kids and I’ve no doubt they will be back on the international scene very soon.”
The team formed part of a larger Irish contingent to take part in a recent training camp in Italy that was used to prepare for the three upcoming tournaments. Once the Women’s World Championships and Men’s Europeans are over, those on the NI team will ramp up their preparations for the Commonwealths with a training camp at SINI that will include Team GB, the Irish High-Performance team, India, Australia and Canada.
“We had a hugely impressive and beneficial camp in Assisi,” Kennedy confirmed.
“They all performed really well so we will finalise our preparation in Dublin for the next two weeks and then head off to Armenia.
“When we come home from there, it’s straight back in here and batten down the hatches where we will finish up the next seven or eight weeks in Belfast.”