THESE are heady days for Birtley Boxing Club – and they are about to get even headier.

Last week, one of the club’s stars, Luke McCormack, fought successfully in France as the British Lionhearts – effectively British Boxing’s elite amateur squad – took part in the opening round of matches in the World Series of Boxing (WSB).

Next week, the WSB comes to the North-East, with Birtley duo Calum French and Pat McCormack set to be the star attractions as the British Lionhearts take on the Croatian Knights at Gateshead Leisure Centre.

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And in two months’ time, all three Birtley fighters will be heading to Australia’s Gold Coast to compete in the Commonwealth Games after they were selected in a 12-strong England boxing team that was announced earlier this week.

From its unglamorous surroundings on Beaconsfield Terrace, Birtley Boxing Club has nurtured three of the most talented and exciting young amateurs in the country. If their current rate of progress is maintained over the next two years, all three could find themselves in a GB vest at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t all be fighting at the Olympics,” said French, a lightweight who underlined his world-class credentials when he claimed a bronze medal at last year’s European Championships in Ukraine. “All three of us boxed at the Europeans, and we’ve also all qualified at the Worlds.

“That’s the level we’re fighting at, and I think all three of us feel at home there. We’re going to the Commonwealths, and hopefully that’ll be another chance for us to show what we can do against some of the best boxers in the world.

“It’s mad to think we’re fighting together for Britain, and it’s even madder when you think of how we’ve grown up together since we were kids. Pat and Luke are obviously twins, and I’ve known them right the way through my career. I got to know them really closely when I first joined Birtley, and we’ve been best mates ever since. Now, we’re travelling all around the world together.”

While all three now spend most of their working week at British Boxing’s high-performance base at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, their success says much for the quality of the coaching set-up at Birtley.

They still train at their home gym on a weekend, and French is quick to highlight the role played by Birtley head coach Graeme Rutherford in their development.

Rutherford has devoted almost three decades of his life to running Birtley ABC, nurturing a succession of senior ABA and British champions. A local lad who used to box a bit in his youth, he openly admits he was something of a tearaway in his teens, yet thanks to a combination of coaching knowhow and selfless devotion, he has transformed Birtley into one of the most successful and respected amateur clubs in the country.

“It’s all down to Graeme,” said French. “I’d say that for me, and I know Pat and Luke would say the same thing as well. He’s the man behind the medals. People look at the success we’ve had and say there must be something in the water up here, but it’s all down to him.

“He sets the standards, and he makes the club what it is. He’s been great for us, but he pays the same amount of attention to anyone who comes through the door, whether they’re going to make it to the top or not.

“I started out at High Fell, and moved to Birtley when I was about 13, and making that move was the single biggest thing in my career. I went from what I would describe as a ‘half-and-half boxer’ – someone who could box a bit but wasn’t really taking it seriously – to being a national champion in my first full season at Birtley.

“That was because of Graeme. It’s the time he puts in with the kids that makes all the difference. He turns you into someone who takes the sport seriously.”

The fruits of Rutherford’s labour will be apparent next Friday as Gateshead stages the first home British Lionhearts WSB contest to be staged outside London.

Luke will not be in action because his weight category is on a rest week, but Pat will be joining French in the ring as some of Britain’s leading lights showcase their skills.

“It’s a massive thing for the North-East to be putting on a WSB event,” said French, who spent part of last month training in Colorado Springs as some of Team GB’s elite squad joined up with fighters from the United States, Poland and New Zealand. “I don’t think some people realise just how big a competition this is.

“It’s basically the best amateur boxers from all over the world coming together to fight each other. Outside of the Olympics or the Worlds, it’s the best standard of boxing you’re going to get. And because it’s a team competition, you’re getting seven or eight top-class fights all taking place on the same night.

“It’s great that me and Pat get a chance to be part of it, and I’ll be going out there determined to put on a show. I know plenty of people that are coming down, and that’ll just make me fight even harder.”

Next week’s show clearly means a lot to both French and McCormack, but April’s Commonwealth Games offers them an opportunity to add another major medal to their collection.

“You want to be taking part in the biggest events, and heading over to Australia for the Commonwealths should be good for us,” said French. “It’s a bit different because the GB team obviously splits up, so you can be fighting against your team-mates who are boxing for Scotland or Wales. You don’t get to do that very often.

“That’s going to be a big part of the year, and the rest of the WSB fights are also going to be important. Next year, you’ll have a chance to qualify for the Olympics through the WSB, so you need to get as much experience as you can to make sure you’re ready for that.”