DISAPPOINTMENT at the previous Commonwealth Games proved the catalyst for a Boxing Scotland revolution. Two bronze medals – for Reece McFadden and John Docherty – on Gold Coast was short of what had been hoped for and inspired some extensive navel-gazing.
The subsequent overhaul of the performance programme has already delivered tangible results, with Reese Lynch claiming Scotland’s first ever world championship medal last year before team-mate Sam Hickey then won a first European medal for 16 years in May.
Both will be part of an eight-person team - Matthew McHale, Stephen Newns, Tyler Jolly, Lennon Mulligan, Megan Reid and Sean Lazzerini are the others – that will head to Birmingham looking to further burnish the reputation of Scottish amateur boxing.
Watching ringside, and as nervous as any competitor, will be Craig McEvoy. It was Boxing Scotland’s Performance Director and Joint National Coach who took the positive action he felt was needed to reinvigorate the sport and now waits to see if those changes translate into medal success.
“I’ll be totally honest and wear my heart on my sleeve,” says the former British Army soldier. “In 2018 and then at the start of 2019 we weren’t performing, simple as that.
“Before Gold Coast I carried out a SWOT analysis of everything and wrote a performance plan off the back of it. And just about everything we put down back then has come to fruition.
“We’ve created a pathway, there’s regional training, and personal assessments to create a filter, whereas before you had 50 or 60 boxers who weren’t up to the mark.
“This way also creates a bit of hardship. There’s got to be that passion for wearing the vest and knowing you’ve earned your right to be here.
“We’ve got a full-time programme. Unfortunately we’re still a bit away from having full-time funded athletes but there are a lot of sacrifices being made. We’ve now got five boxers on the GB programme too.
“Our medal target for these Games is three or more. We were guaranteed six athletes initially and managed to get eight in the end but it’s still the least amount of boxers we’ve had in the team for three Games, bearing in mind on Gold Coast we had 11 and Glasgow there were 10. But all eight this time are serious contenders for a medal.”
Boxing can be a contentious sport at times with the result often hanging on the whim of the individuals judging. And that could ultimately influence how successful these Games turn out to be.
“We love boxing because it’s not an exact science,” adds McEvoy. “It’s a random draw so you could get a world medalist straight away. It’s knock-out boxing. You don’t get a second chance like in other sports.
“And it’s a subjective scoring system with the judges drawn randomly. Each judge might have a personal preference for one style over another. There are so many moving parts. So all our boxers need to be brave, they need to be bold and they need to be at their best. But there’s a real good team spirit here. They’re all good friends and they all support each other.”
The ring from Glasgow 2014 now sits in the centre of Boxing Scotland’s headquarters in Bridgeton, a daily reminder to those training of what could lie ahead. Josh Taylor won gold in that ring and then went on to become undisputed world champion in the professional ranks, following in the footsteps of others like Alex Arthur who also tasted success in the Commonwealth Games as amateurs.
“That’s great for the guys to see, that brings it home,” adds McEvoy. “It’s the realisation of what can lie ahead of them. In the middle of our gym we have the ring from 2014 where Josh and Charlie Flynn won their gold medals. We had that installed a few months ago and it inspires me every time I go in there and the boxers too.
“I’ve no doubt in my mind that some of them by the end of the Games will have gold medals around their necks too. We’re very confident. And I know that if any of our fighters’ journeys end before the final they will feel disappointed as they all believe they can reach the final and then look to take gold.”
McEvoy and his coaching team – that includes former world champion Ricky Burns – will do all they can to thoroughly prepare their eight boxers but once they step inside the ring a sense of helplessness falls over the trainers.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster, the highs and lows and just going through it all with every fighter,” he adds. “But that’s why we do the job. A lot of these boxers I’ve known since they were 14 or 15 and followed them on their journey. I’d love nothing more than to see them doing well and hopefully winning medals.”