Northern Ireland have a strong representation in the semi-finals of the boxing tournament at the Commonwealth Games on Saturday.
Seven boxers on their team will be in action at the NEC in Birmingham, vying for a place in Sunday’s finals but already guaranteed a medal.
Carl Frampton understands the pride that comes with winning a medal at these Games. He became a two-weight world champion and a star of the sport. But he never went to the Commonwealths and still regrets it.
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“It’s just one of those things, you win the Ulster championships and that’s your ticket for the Commonwealth Games, that’s it,” he told Sky Sports.
“I was Irish champion and I think probably number one in the Four Nations at the time. I’d just won the multi-nations the week before. If I didn’t enter the Ulsters, I would have been sent I think, just because of being the Irish champion but I entered and lost.
“I remember going home and crying my eyes out because I wanted to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. It never happened.
“I’d have been extremely proud to represent Northern Ireland at a Commonwealth Games.”
Boxing is an important sport in Northern Ireland. “It’s massive. It wasn’t that long ago that the Ulster championships used to be shown on TV in Northern Ireland,” Frampton said. “It’s a sport that people respect at home.”
It’s also a sport that transcends social and political divides there.
“Boxing in Northern Ireland has always been a sport that brings people together,” Frampton said.
“I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s to do with the respect and the respect that you have to have for someone who is brave enough to step through the ropes. It takes a lot of courage to do that.
“That’s kind of my answer for it. That could be the right answer but I don’t know.”
Amateur boxing clubs play an often under-appreciated but hugely valuable role in their communities.
“My old coach Billy McKee used to always say the greatest achievements for him as a coach were not me winning championships or whatever, or anyone else winning titles, but it was about taking a guy who’s having a bit of a rough time, maybe going down the wrong path, and getting him back on the straight and narrow, a kid going off to university who maybe wasn’t expected to do it, and succeeding or getting a job,” Frampton said.
“They were the real success stories for him. Maybe people on the outside see that and they understand it. I think all sports as well at that level, it’s all on a voluntary basis and these guys give up a lot of time to just try and help, help other people.”
Frampton believes high-profile sportspeople, like himself, need to use that position. He was at the Commonwealth Games to support the Northern Ireland team but also to speak at the Beyond the Games conference. He was one of 250 sports leaders who attended. Surveyed as to whether the sports sector was doing enough to use its power and popularity in society to help break down social barriers and address inequalities in local communities, 70 per cent were either neutral or disagreed.
“The positive impact and influence sportspeople can have, people listen to them for whatever reason,” Frampton said. “Because you’ve a platform, you should use it positively.
“In Birmingham [these boxers] will be able to bring their own positive message out as Commonwealth medallists.”
Northern Ireland has quality boxers like Amy Broadhurst, Michaela Walsh, Jude Gallagher and more in semi-final action. Frampton is tipping Dylan Eagleson as one to watch.
“[He] just won a silver medal at the European championships, he’s only 19. You know how difficult it is to win a medal at a Europeans,” Frampton said. “All those Eastern bloc countries, they can all fight, they’ve all got very good fighters. Some people even say that [securing a medal] at the Europeans is as tough as an Olympics, because there’s no real easy fights.
“There’s a lot of media attention on the Commonwealth Games, people will get to see him and know a little bit more about him. Which should be the case because he’s a nice kid and a very, very good fighter. It’s more exposure for them, more than the medals. The medals are important but the exposure’s very important too.”
England, Wales and Scotland also have quality boxers in the semi-finals.
Reigning Commonwealth silver medallist Rosie Eccles takes on Eireaan Nugent from Northern Ireland. England’s Lewis Richardson boxes Sam Hickey of Scotland at top level middleweight bout.
Welsh light-heavy Taylor Bevan and Aaron Bowen of England have both made great strides in this tournament. They collide at 80kgs and exciting super-heavyweight, Birmingham’s own Delicious Orie bids for a place in the final against New Zealand’s Leuila Mau’u at the end of a long session of boxing.
The biggest fight in the history of women’s boxing – Claressa Shields vs Savannah Marshall – is live on Sky Sports on Saturday, September 10. Be part of history and buy tickets for the London showdown here.