Ulster show a big hit with Derry pros

The Deputy Mayor of Derry Ald. Mary Hamilton gears up for the Ulster Elite Boxing Championships which will run from the 21st - 25th of January 2013, with front from left, Min McCann, Derry Boxing Board secretary, and Olympic medal winning boxer Charlie Nash. Standing, from left, is boxer Eamon O'Kane, Chris McCann, Culture Company, Jim Knox, Derry Boaxing Board vice president, and boxer Paul McCloskey. (1412PG151)

The Deputy Mayor of Derry Ald. Mary Hamilton gears up for the Ulster Elite Boxing Championships which will run from the 21st - 25th of January 2013, with front from left, Min McCann, Derry Boxing Board secretary, and Olympic medal winning boxer Charlie Nash. Standing, from left, is boxer Eamon O'Kane, Chris McCann, Culture Company, Jim Knox, Derry Boaxing Board vice president, and boxer Paul McCloskey. (1412PG151)

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DUNGIVEN SOUTHPAW, Paul McCloskey believes the staging of the 2013 Ulster Senior Championships at Ebrington Square next month can breathe fresh life into the local boxing scene.

SIMON COLLINS reports

‘Dudey’, who was joined at the launch of the Championships at Eglinton A.B.C. yesterday by former European champion, Charlie Nash and Irish Prizefighter king, Eamonn O’Kane, was delighted that the Ulster Boxing Council have agreed to stage the prestigious event in Derry as the first major sporting event to take place in the city during the City of Culture celebrations.

A former five times Ulster Senior champion himself, ‘Dudey’ insists he would have loved to have the opportunity to fight in front of his hometown support and has urged local amateur boxers to make the most of the opportunity to showcase their talent on their own doorsteps at what is the pinnacle of the Ulster Amateur Boxing calendar.

It will be the first time in its history that the Championships - which have been a mainstay in Belfast’s Ulster Hall down through the years - have been held in the city and McCloskey is hoping the tournament can provide a platform for future Ulster and Irish champions from Derry.

“It has always been staged in Belfast so obviously, being a former Ulster Senior champion, I would have loved the opportunity to fight in my home county in the Ulster Championships, so it’s a brilliant opportunity for local boxers,” said the former St Canice’s ABC member.

“I won all mine in the Ulster Hall in Belfast so to bring it here is a great chance for any Derry city or Co. Derry man to win a title as it will be a home fight, so it’s amazing.”

“Obviously with it being the City of Culture year it will bring an extra incentive for the boxers too but it should be a class event because there’s plenty of talent in Derry.”

Aspiring local boxers will get the chance to see Olympians Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon in action and McCloskey believes that will provide added motivation for those attempting to follow in their footsteps.

“The kids look up to the current champions and that’s what they want to be like so it gives the community and the area a wee lift and more motivation.”

McCloskey, who was crowned WBA Inter-Continental light-welterweight champion following victory over Manuel Perez last September, will be keeping a close eye on how the Ebrington arena facilitates the competition as he still harbours hopes of headlining a major professional boxing championship in March next year should proposed plans come to fruition.

“I would love to headline an event in Ebrington,” he said. “If it can happen it would be amazing. I always said that fighting at home is a dream. I fought at home when I got the European title fight against Daniel Rasilla and Matchroom brought it to Magherafelt.

“I wanted to do it in my own county, not in Belfast but in Derry and I was delighted I got the chance to do that. Okay it was cold that night but I’ll never forget it because it was a brilliant night for me.”

O’Kane excited

Also attending yesterday’s launch was Banagher’s eight time Ulster Senior title holder and 2010 Commonwealth gold medalist, Eamonn O’Kane and the former Immaculata middleweight is confident that the staging of Ulster boxing’s Blue Riband event in Derry will provide local boxers with that extra hunger for success.

“Paul McCloskey has always been an idol of mine and whenever he was boxing in the Ulster Seniors, that’s what gave me the incentive to go and win Ulster Senior titles,” said O’Kane.

“So hopefully the fact that it’s being held in Derry it will give others the goal of becoming Ulster and Irish Senior champions. When they see it on their own doorstep they will be more familiar with it and probably have more of a hunger for it.

“Derry is a big boxing county believe it or not,” he added. “Everybody think that it’s just Belfast but if you look at the support that John Duddy had for years, Charlie Nash and Paul McCloskey and hopefully myself and the rest of the upcoming fighters.

“This is a chance for Derry to go out and show that they are a boxing county as well and for the City of Culture year it’s fantastic. We can go out and showcase the sport and show that it’s the best sport in Derry.”

And O’Kane, who plans to return to the ring early next year following his first professional defeat against John Ryder last weekend, is confident that Derry boxers can produce a strong performance at the provincial championships.

“It gives these clubs the chance to showcase their talent in front of their home support and it will give them that incentive to get to the finals and win Ulster titles. So hopefully this will create an opportunity for some fighters to come back to the sport.”