For some they were more anticipated than the National Elite Championships, so it will be frustrating for such old-school fight fans to see that the Ulster Elite Championships are unlikely play out this year.
However, with the changing landscape of amateur boxing, both worldwide and in Ireland, the championships never looked likely to take place in early 2017 as had been planned.
February 7th-10th were the dates which the Ulster Council had chosen, admittedly before the National calendar was finalised. Now, with the National U22s taking place in January and the National Elites taking place in February, the Ulsters have been understandably squeezed out and shelved.
With both the National U22s and National Elites having international ramifications, it makes obvious sense for these to take place as early in the calendar year as possible and take precedence over the provincial tournament. With the winners of these tournaments going to tournaments and camps, a date for the Ulsters in March, April, May etc is also near-instant no-go.
The Ulsters have seen dwindling numbers and interest in recent years – across the 20 weights for men and women there were just 30 entries for 2015 tournament and 27 for 2016 tournament. If they are to survive they will need to adapt to an Elite amateur boxing scene in Ireland which, following an unrivalled period of success, has seen increasing focus on international tournaments.
Such is the history of the championships, and the undoubted quality of the province, it is obviously preferable that tournament continues.
However changes will need to be made, and there are numerous possibilities.
One possible idea is as follows: Rigidly link the Ulster Elite Championships to selection for the Commonwealth Games.
Perhaps it is just a bridge too far to hope and expect for a yearly competition in Ulster that features all of the province’s best fighters.
Therefore, why not run the tournament only once every four years and ensure (within reason) that the winners are chosen as the representatives for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games?
The rarity of the tournament and the tangible prize at the end of it would increase prestige and interest, and this would hopefully be seen in both entries and attendances.
Ulster Council president Paul McMahon suggested to the Irish News that an Ulster tournament be ran in September (although the schedule also seems to look clear for October) which could be used as a means to pick the Northern Ireland for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia next April.
McMahon is a divisive character who receives plenty of criticism, however an Autumn tournament makes sense this year – certainly more sense than a February tournament.
What could be an issue is the World Championships in Hamburg which are scheduled to finish on Sunday September 3rd. Among others, the likes of Kurt Walker, Conor Wallace, Brendan Irvine, Sean McComb, Stevie McKenna will be hoping to compete, and it could present any of those who qualify with an unappealing turnaround time for a September Ulster Senior Elites.
Possible solutions could include a Christmas time box-off, or a series of box-offs, between Ulster Elite Seniors winners and any Ulster boxers who participated in the World Championships, with the winner securing the spot for the Commonwealth Games. Alternatively, automatic selection for the Commonwealth Games could be afforded to any Ulster boxers who participate in the World Championships (which require a Top 8 finish in the European Championships this Summer to qualify for).