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Esteemed coach John Conlan urges boxing federations to help local clubs get up and running again



Coach John Conlan, left, with son Michael

Coach John Conlan, left, with son Michael

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Coach John Conlan, left, with son Michael

Ulster's top amateur boxers have finally returned to collective training under the guidance of High Performance coach John Conlan, whose sense of relief was matched by concern for those at the grassroots of the sport.

Boxing clubs have been an integral part of many communities, particularly throughout Co Antrim, and the impact of Covid-19 has been harsh. Just how severe the virus could be on clubs that tend to scrape by in normal circumstances remains to be seen.

A traditional summer break is followed by clubs opening the doors in September and having experienced running St John Bosco ABC, Conlan admits he has some fear for just how amateur gyms are going to survive.

"I think it has to be a real concern for clubs and really they are going to need financial support to get through this because I know from my own experience that in good times it was very hard to keep going," said Conlan.

"They are going to need backing from the federation but also those who pay rent will need that to be waived and I think local government or councils will need to help them out. We all know the benefits of boxing and what it means for kids in working class areas.

"The reality is that many of the kids who come into the gym can't afford their subs but they're never refused entry and in normal circumstances you would run shows, run competitions for example to raise funds but that can't happen now.

"The IABA have given the clubs the necessary protocols for returning and that means that everyone must have a Covid Officer to make sure that all checks and sanitising are carried out properly. There will be limited space in the gyms and that brings its own issues because I know that so many kids will want to be back.

"I know that the Ulster Council have been very proactive over the summer and I just hope that the clubs get the help they need because the days of rattling tins in shops and hoping for money are gone and sponsorship is going to be so hard to come by."

Conlan welcomed back seven of Ulster's elite boxers last Monday to the University of Ulster, Jordanstown gym which is now set up with specific, three square-metre areas in which each athlete must carry out their training.

Among those who returned were European champion Kurt Walker, Olympian Brendan Irvine and the Walsh siblings Aidan and Michaela, and Conlan says he was very happy with the condition of all seven when they reported back.

"It was great to see the buzz around the place. It has taken months to get to this point, there had to be a lot of talks with various bodies about the guidelines so it was just great to see the boxers back - and they were enjoying being back training together," added Conlan.

"They have their own space, they are tested every day by our administrator Amy Shiels and there is one way in and one way out.

"They've been working hard, we're building up a platform so they will hopefully be able to get back sparring in September."

Belfast Telegraph