BEHIND closed doors assessments may take place in the weeks and months ahead – but Eric Donovan believes it would be “a big mistake” if Irish coaches looked beyond Jude Gallagher for February’s World Olympic qualifier in Italy.
The Tyrone tornado finished top of the pile in a highly-competitive featherweight division at the Irish elite championships earlier this month, getting the better of fellow Commonwealth Games gold medallist Dylan Eagleson and Galway’s Adam Hession along the way.
Gallagher has already had one crack at securing his spot at Paris 2024, the draw pairing him with Cuban-born Bulgarian Javier Ibanez at the European qualifier in June.
Ibanez took a split decision win over the Newtownstewart man en route to gold in Poland, and will be among the ones to beat in the French capital next summer.
However, rather than rue his missed opportunity, Gallagher knuckled down and made sure he was in the best shape possible by the time the national championships rolled around – that preparation paying off when he was crowned 57kg king.
And while the Irish elites form only a part of the selection process, Donovan believes his charge is now ready to take on the best around at the World qualifier in Italy next February.
“You never stop learning in the game,” said the former European super-featherweight champion.
“His first major international at elite level was the Commonwealth Games, he had three fights in that then two walkovers. Then he had a couple of internationals with Ireland in the last year or two, boxed some very good people and picked up a lot of experience along the way.
“All these fights he was narrowly losing, for such a young kid, they contributed to his growth and his ability. It was only ever a matter of time before he turned the tables because you learn so much more in defeat than you do in victory.
“He has taken those losses and used them to his advantage, he’s always going back to the drawing board and learning from every fight that he has, every competition he enters.
“He’s boxing out of skin right now, he’s found himself, he’s a fully-fledged featherweight, very developed, and this is not before his time. This is his time, and he believes it too.
“All those featherweights who went in this year could be Olympic standard, and would have considered themselves in with a real chance of getting to Paris, and Jude is no different. He trains that way, he’s professional in approach, and winning at the elite championships has put him in pole position.
“It’s up to the high performance coaches now to select him, but I really cannot see them looking past Jude because he won in very convincing fashion. He came through in style in the end, so for them to look past him would be a big mistake.”
With Eagleson coming up from 54kg to pursue his Olympic dream, and Davy Joyce coming down from 60kg – not to mention defending champion Paul Loonam also in the mix – there was no more stacked division at the National Stadium a fortnight ago.
But Donovan feels it is a sign of Gallagher’s continued development that he was able to park his European qualifier disappointment before coming back bigger and better.
“The pressure was on, the stakes are very high, considering he was very unfortunate getting the Cuban boxing for Bulgaria at the European qualifiers in his first fight – and he gave that guy the best fight of the whole tournament as well. He blitzed everybody else.
“It was a case of so close yet so far, and you have to go back to the drawing board again. Jude is just turned 22, it can be a lot on young shoulders to contend with that, but he never makes a fuss. He puts the head down and works, continues to get better – and he is getting better.
“But it’s still nervy because we were going into a division that was one of the most decorated and difficult we’ve ever seen in an Irish senior championships. You might have two or three in some cases, but there were eight entrants and seven were elite champions, and had achieved at international level.
“It didn’t matter what way things fell, you knew it was going to be tough. So we prepared for that, for every possibility, we had our tactics and he executed them to perfection.
“He got his rewards in the end, and I’m just so relieved and happy for him.”
A great time was had by all at the Tyrone and Fermanagh night of boxing nostalgia, which raised much-needed funds for suicide-awareness charity PIPS. A host of boxers past and present – including the likes of Tommy Corr, Jude Gallagher and Feargal McCrory (pictured) – made the pilgrimage to Omagh’s INF Hall on Saturday night, with master of ceremonies Liam Morris interviewing some of those whose exploits in the ring remain treasured memories for many
Clann Naofa’s Evelyn Igharo returned with bronze from the European U22 championships in Montenegro. Picture by Hugh Russell
IRELAND LEFT FRUSTRATED AS POLITICS AFFECTS MEDAL HOPES
IT was a feeling of frustration that accompanied Ireland on the flight home from the European U22 Championships in Montenegro, with the team unable to fulfil its true potential due to ongoing political machinations.
Before travelling to Budva, boxers were informed by Sport Ireland and the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), that they would be withdrawn from the competition should they be paired with opponents from Russian or Belarus.
As a result, team captain Kian Hedderman’s saw his dreams left in tatters before a punch had been thrown after drawing Russia in the preliminary round, while Gavin Rafferty had to pull out after one win.
And Evelyn Igharo was unable to contest her semi-final against Russia, returning home with a bronze medal when there was a chance she could have gone further.
“The referee and judge for Ireland was still allowed to judge Russian and Belarusian fights and Irish boxers were still able to spar Russia and Belarus,” said Igharo in a Facebook post.
“The competition results aren’t a reflection on the Irish boxers that went or the coaches, it’s more so a reflection on the very, very little preparation and notice that was given to us by IABA.”
Robyn Kelly and Dearbhla Tinnelly also picked up bronze medals and, alongside Ireland’s quarter-finalists – which included Rathfriland BC’s Donagh Keary – were awarded prize money.
In a statement, the IABA said its decision was “taken in recognition of the fact that Ireland is a signatory to four successive statements on Russia’s war on Ukraine and international sport”.