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Commonwealth Games: Why we’re punching above our weight

We might not be very good at running, swimming or weight-lifting, but we’re definitely punching above our weight in at least one sport at the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Sensational performances from Paddy Barnes, Paddy Gallagher, Thomas McCarthy, Eamonn O'Kane and Steven Ward have seen the Northern Ireland boxing team secure a stunning medal haul — with the potential for five gold medals.

After a remarkable day in the ring at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium yesterday, all five contenders qualified for the finals and could take Northern Ireland to an unprecedented tally of medals in the ring.

“I think the success is down to the return of Michael Hawkins to the coaching team,” said BBC boxing correspondent Jim Neilly. “He and Stephen Friel have a very good team, a very good attitude and they know exactly what they are doing. You can hear from the instructions they are giving between rounds how encouraging they are and just how knowledgeable they are.

“Coming from Northern Ireland, you can’t help but have a great sense of pride. To get five boxers into the finals is just fantastic.”

Boxing has always been popular in Northern Ireland. With 38 clubs across Antrim, 16 in Armagh/Down, 10 in Derry and 11 in Fermanagh, competition for places here is the toughest in Ireland.

“We aren’t one of the biggest and we have about 100 boys on the books from aged 11 right up to about 30,” said Harry Hawkins who runs Holy Trinity Boxing Club in west Belfast. “Every night you’ll have at least 60 people in training at any one time and they are very competitive in their boxing. Over the past few years, and this year in particular, we’ve had to turn new members away because we just haven’t got the hours or the manpower to cope with any more. But if we had more full time coaches we could be doing even more.”

Mr Hawkins, whose brother Michael is with the team in Delhi, added: “Boxing is a fantastic discipline — you are using every single muscle, so it’s fantastic for fitness but also about discipline.

The kids can get rid of their natural aggression on the bag or in the gym. But it’s all controlled aggression — you won’t see our members getting into trouble — and they enjoy every minute of it.”

Belfast Telegraph