JUDE Gallagher’s over-riding emotion after winning the Irish Elite Boxing Championship 57kg crown on Saturday night was relief.
His latest success lifted a massive weight off his shoulders as it meant his Olympics dream remained alive after a year of injury frustrations that put those hopes in doubt.
The talented Newtownstewart fighter earned a deserved unanimous decision over Adam Hession, having won his semi-final against friend and training partner, Dylan Eagleson, in similar fashion the day before.
“Relief is the one word to describe it!,” Gallagher admitted. “I knew the quality in my weight division. There were eight boxers entered and I think all of us were Elite champions at one stage. Adam is an under-22 European medalist, Davy Joyce is a European gold medalist. There’s a load of international medalists.
“It’s probably the most stacked weight in Ireland, but I had a good, long, hard camp, training all over Ireland, so to win that one meant a lot. It’s great, I’m over the moon.”
Gallagher has endured a frustrating period after clinching Commonwealth Games gold in Birmingham in 2022, injuring his hand in his first fight after that incredible achievement during a bout in Finland. That blow ended his hopes of even competing in last year’s Elite Championship, with the Newtownstewart pugilist aware that he had a lot of hard work to do in order to retain his Irish number one status so he could keep his Olympic Games dream alive.
The now 22-year-old first won the 52kg Irish Elite crown in 2019 but due to a growth spurt the then 19-year-old was unable to make that weight by the time the Tokyo Olympic Games qualifiers were taking place, so was forced to watch from the sidelines.
He channeled those frustrations over the next few years to devastating effect as he clinched gold in Birmingham to be crowned Commonwealth Games champion but then that hand injury left him on the outside looking in once more. Again, he knuckled down, travelling around Ireland for tough sparring sessions once his hand had healed, taking on some of top opponents in order to get back to his best, including American world champion, Jamal Harvey. The effort paid off as he regained his Ireland team spot and a place at the European Games in Poland in the summer.
“This time last year I injured the hand over in Finland, which made me miss the Elite’s and I didn’t even know if I’d get to represent Ireland at the European Games or anything,” Jude explained.
“Luckily enough I got an assessment and I got through to the other side of that process, beating four or five of the lads, so to get selected [for the European Games] was a big relief.”
Unfortunately, his appearance in Poland at the Games, which acted as an Olympics qualifier, didn’t go to plan as he suffered an early exit against the eventual winner, Bulgaria’s Cuban import Javier Ibanez Diaz, who was a 2014 Youth Olympic gold medalist for his native country.
“The European Games didn’t go to plan,” Jude acknowledged. “I got beaten in the first round by the eventual winner, but I was absolutely flying in that fight too.
“I was 5-0 up after the first round and I was boxing out of my skin but when I went into that second round I just felt like I had hit a brick wall. I definitely felt there was something missing energy wise, I felt flat and it turned into a bit of a slug-fest, which I lost on a split decision.
“I was unlucky because it was a fight I could have won and I could have gone on to qualify at the first attempt. But that left a lot of uncertainty going forward because it meant my number one status wasn’t guaranteed and I’d have to go back and win the Elite’s.”
In order to do that, Gallagher knew he faced an uphill battle in what is Ireland’s most competitive class, featuring a host of Irish champions, European and Commonwealth Games medalists.
“We all knew the quality that was in my weight division,” he stated. “Dylan, for example, was the reigning 54kg champion and the reigning Commonwealth Games champion and a European silver medalist at 54 too, so it was a big fight. We felt he was the biggest obstacle but I had a good plan and it paid off.
“And we all know each other well. I’ve fought Adam Hession four or five times, so we knew it was going to be cagey but as long as I boxed and moved I’d beat him all day, which is what I did.”
Victory in the Elite Championships has put Gallagher firmly back in the picture for a place at the Olympics in Paris and he’s now gearing up for the next qualification event in Italy in February.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere
SUBSCRIBE TO CURRENT EDITION TODAYand get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007
(CLICK ON THE TITLE BELOW TO SUBSCRIBE)