Tomorrow the seven-strong Irish team for the 41st European Men’s Amateur Championships will jet off to Bulgaria.
The small resort town of Samokov will play host to the crucial championships which hold Olympic significance. The top six boxers in each weight category (semi finalists plus the two quarter finalists who lose to the eventual finalists) will secure qualification for the World Championships in Qatar this October – and these championships will act as the first AIBA Open Boxing Olympic qualifier.
Indeed while these championships have received little fanfare compared to the European Games, they are in fact more important in terms of Worlds and Olympic qualification.
AIBA rules prevent Ireland sending boxers at 49kg, 60kg, or 75kg, due to the medal winning (and World Championship qualification securing) performances of Brendan Irvine, Sean McComb, and Michael O’Reilly, at June’s European Games in Azerbaijan.
These rulings may work in the favour of the remaining seven Irish boxers as Azerbaijan and Russia’s dominance at the European Games has significantly thinned the competition in many weight classes.
Indeed, World Championships qualification, as well as European medals, will be in the minds of the entire Irish team.
Here, irish-boxing.com profiles the magnificent seven who will hope to bring another haul of precious metals through Dublin Airport in the coming weeks.
52kg – Flyweight
‘Little Bang’ Casey roared onto the world scene at the European Games, his debut major tournament. The St. Francis’s southpaw was a history-maker at the games, competing in, and winning, the first ever European Games boxing bout. In the round of 16, Casey was edged out by home favourite, and eventual gold medalist, Elvin Mamishzada. The Limerick 22 year old has proven that he belongs at world level, and the younger brother to former Prizefighter and European Champ, Willie, will be looking to add to his family’s trophy cabinet with his own first major international medal.
56kg – Bantamweight
The undoubted superstar of this Irish team, Conlan will be gunning for gold in Bulgaria. The Clonard ABC man won silver in the last edition of the European Championships – as well as bronze in the 2012 Olympics and gold in the 2014 Commonwealth games. Already qualified for Rio 2016 via the World Series of Boxing, the Belfast banger will be looking to expand his medal haul before he makes an assault on Olympic gold. Exciting to watch, Conlan has the arsenal of punches to decimate any opponent he comes up against.
64kg – Light Welterweight
The 21 year old Wexford man will be hoping that it is third time lucky at international tournaments, having been dubiously denied medals in his last two. In both the 2014 EUs and the 2015 European Games, Walsh had highly impressive wins in the round of 16 – before losing his bronze medal bouts in controversial circumstances. The winner of the Best Boxer award at the National championships earlier this year, Walsh will aim to erase the memory of these disappointments by medalling in Samokov and securing qualification for the Worlds.
69kg – Welterweight
The Bray BC fighter came agonisingly close to securing his first major international medal at the European Games, however the punching policeman was edged out in the quarter finals by Britain’s Josh Kelly. The experienced 2012 Olympian will be one of the favourites in Bulgaria, and the stylish southpaw has more than enough quality to break his medal duck. With Caoimhin Hynes and Steven Donnelly snapping at his heels, a place in the world championships would also give Nolan an advanced chance at qualification for a second Olympic Games.
81kg – Light Heavyweight
The Moate boxer is one of the most naturally talented fighters to ever come out of Ireland. At the age of nineteen, Big Joe already had a European gold and a World bronze medal tucked away. Ward is now on the war-path for an Olympic medal having been cruelly denied qualification back in 2012. An attempt at qualification through AIBA Professional Boxing did not go to plan, however a return to the 3×3 minute rounds should suit the Westmeath man who is nearly unbeatable at this format.
91kg – Heavyweight
At 29, and now in his third senior weight category, Kilkenny’s O’Neill is the elder statesman, and captain, of the Irish team. A decorated boxer, O’Neill has previously claimed European silver (2010) and EU gold and silver (2009 and 2014 respectively) – however the Paulstown BC man lost out on a medal at the recent European Games after losing a contentious decision to the Ukraine’s Gevorg Manukian. Buoyed by his admirable performance in these Games, O’Neill will be aiming to break Ireland’s 68
year absence from the heavyweight podium at the European Championships.
+91kg – Super heavyweight
‘Breakfast’ is another who is aiming to win his first major international medal. The Clonmel man was unlucky not to medal at last years EUs, and came up against Olympic medal prospect, Tony Yoka, in the quarter finals of the European Games The Tipperary Titan has the strength and size to match the Eastern giants of the division, and the 27 year old has a chance to shine in Samokov.
Team Manager: Peter O’Donnell
Coaches: Billy Walsh, Zauri Antia, and Eddie Bolger
Physiotherapist: Julianne Ryan
Sports Psychologist: Gerry Hussey
Performance Analyst: Alan Swanton
Cuts Man: Dr John Haughey
Boxing begins on Friday, and irish-boxing.com will have news of the draw as soon as it is revealed.