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The European Games Show We Have Two Potential Boxing Stars In The Irish System

The European Games Show We Have Two Potential Boxing Stars In The Irish System
By Gavin Cooney Updated

From the leaving of Billy Walsh to the cleaving of the IABA boardroom: Irish amateur boxing has been suffocating in the fug of a succession of self-made crises over the past two years. These bracket the other great calamity: a slice in funding after an Olympics which yielded no medals, one failed drugs test, and two middle-fingers to just about everybody at the AIBA. That loss of funding followed the expected departures of Mick Conlan, Katie Taylor, and Paddy Barnes: now all thriving as professionals.

This week's European Championships in Ukraine are a welcome diversion from the sideshow, with the gloves finally back on as focus switches to proceedings in the ring. And for all of Irish boxing's self-inflicted travails, the competition has shown that Irish boxing remains capable of producing top-tier talents.

Two of whom were in action today. Kurt Walker secured a medal with his quarter-final victory over Italian Raffaele Di Serio, winning via a split decision, but there was disappointment for Sean McComb, narrowly edged out on a split decision against England's Luke McCormack. Both are assured of places at the World Championships in Germany, however.

Within context McComb's performance has been arguably more impressive. There's a feeling that talent is being produced in spite of the machinations at the top of the IABA, and McComb's performance at these championships is a tangible testament to that: in the last round he beat the reigning world champion, Russia's Vitaliy Dunaytsev, despite having his funding cut by Sport Ireland.

Pro boxer and RTE analyst Eric Donovan believes that Walker and McComb are big medal prospects at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, calling the latter a "boxer's boxer":

He's a counter-puncher, he hits hard, he has brilliant footwork and hand-speed. It was a very wise move for him to make the step up from 60kg to 64kg. He was the biggest lightweight in the world at one stage, which was a nice accolade for him, but at the height he was at, he would struggle to make the weight.

The difference between thriving at national level and international level is the ability to be relaxed, composed, and effective in a high-pressure situation. That's what McComb showed against the Russian. In those situations, most boxers will lose that cool, and will spend too long focusing on the strengths of their opponent, saying to themselves 'Oh, this guy is the world champion', and become overwhelmed. But watching McComb against the Russian, it was he who looked like the world champion.

Sean has all the talent, but it is that belief, too, and the ability to keep composed. He has both of those things, and when you do, you can go to a serious distance.

That quality is manifest outside of the ring, too: in the space of an hour of a September afternoon in 2015, he foiled two robberies, twice chasing down pickpockets in Belfast to return stolen items to their rightful owners. McComb is also a Gaelgoir, and Donovan says that it would be amazing to see him fight at the Olympics in Tokyo, having initially flirted with a move to the professional ranks.

His height and his build reminds me of Andy Lee. But I think he is more of a mover, and a small bit more slick. Andy is a great counter-puncher, great mover, at Southpaw stance. But Andy is not as elusive as McComb.

Walker, meanwhile, is proving a fine successor to Michael Conlan as Irish boxing's premier bantamweight. Although they both have pedigree, Donovan sees slight differences in their styles:

Mick is more of a middle distance fighter. Kurt Walker is more of a back-foot fighter. He will make a couple of attacks every now and again, but only when his opponent falls short on his. It is really, really nice to watch, but he is not quite as aggressive as Mick Conlan, but is equally as good in his own right.

So, in spite of all that is going on at an administrative level, Irish boxing will continue to produce prodigious talent, says Donovan, thanks to the equally ferocious work at grassroots level. He believes that McComb and Walker share a similar characteristic that puts them in medal contention in Tokyo. But they won't achieve it alone.


You can teach a boxer oads of thigs, you can teach them how to jab...but you can't teach them that, the ability to stay calm under the strongest of pressure. It's hugely promising for us all. In spite of all that's going on at home with the government, Sport Ireland, and the IABA. Look at these guys, and what they can do.

Imagine what they could do if they had a proper level of backing, and a proper level of funding.

See Also: Watch: Ward/Kovalev Ends In More Controversy With Sickening Low Blow






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