What a Year for our Amateur boxers

The only medal missing from the glittering trophy cabinet of Irish boxing – an AIBA World Elite Men’s Gold – was delivered in 2015 in another historic twelve months in internationally competition.

Michael Conlan secured bantamweight gold at the 2015 World men’s Championships in Doha, Qatar to become the first Irishman to stand on top of an AIBA World Elite podium.

Joe Ward and Michael O’Reilly took home silver and bronze from the Persian Gulf to seal Ireland’s most successful venture at this level.

Katie Taylor won gold at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, as did O’Reilly, and Brendan Irvine and Sean McComb collected silver and bronze in the Azeri capital.

Conlan and Ward, who, along with Paddy Barnes and Steven Donnelly, will represent Ireland at the Rio Olympics next summer, also collected double European Elite gold in Bulgaria in 2015 to mark the third occasion this decade that Ireland struck double European gold. Dean Walsh won bronze in Bulgaria.

Ireland’s coaches, team managers, clubs and clubs coaches played an integral role in a medal-laden twelve months in which Irish boxing occupied podiums positions at every international event entered.

With Rio 2016 looming on the immediate horizon, the New Year promises to be as eventful as 2015, with Ireland’s battle-hardened squads poised to compete for additional places at the 31st Olympiad and for medals in top international Youth and Junior tournaments.

Please click here for all 2015 results.

January

The National Elite Men’s finals got the domestic calendar off to a fiery start with wins for Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, Adam Nolan, Michael O’Reilly, Darren O’Neill, Dean Walsh, Myles Casey, Sean McComb, Roy Sheahan and Dean Gardner. Former EU champion Sheahan turned back the clock versus Matthew Tinker to claim another Elite belt – and deny the St Francis BC a double on the night – and Walsh beat ex European Elite champion Ray Moylette on a split decision in a cracking light-welter decider.  Elsewhere, Ballymena BC welter Steven Donnelly, boxing for the Hussars of Poland, won on his World Series of Boxing (WSB) debut on a unanimous decision over Madiyar Ashkeyev of the Astana Arlans in Lubin, Poland. Lauren Hogan, Ceire Smith, Michaela Walsh, Dervla Duffy, Debbie O’Reilly, Kelly Harrington, Clare Grace, Laoise Traynor and Diana Campbell secured Elite National Women’s crowns at the National Stadium and London 2012 bronze medallists and Rio 2016 Olympians Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan helped Italia Thunder to victory over the Puerto Rico Hurricanes in the WSB in Palermo, Italy. Barnes beat Anthony Ortiz in the light-fly class and Conlan followed that up with an inside the distance victory over Garibaldy Gomez at the Fiera Del Mediterraneo venue.

February

The International Boxing Association indicated that the WSB may be open to women in the future, while the Chairman of the IABA Board of Directors Joe Christle, the only man to beat Frank Bruno in the amateur ranks in 1979, former IABA President Breandan O Conaire of the AIBA R&J Commission, Anna Moore, AIBA Women’s Commission, and Joe Hernon, IABA Child Protection Officer and AIBA Athletic and Youths Commission attended an AIBA Commission meeting in Switzerland. Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan scored emphatic wins for Italian Thunder over Sebastien Jagodzinski and Grzergoz Kozlowski of the Hussars of Poland in Palermo, while World Junior champions Ciara Ginty and Willie Donoghue earned positive verdicts representing an Ireland selection versus Sweden at the St Brigid’s BC in Edenderry. Ireland beat the Swedes again at the National Stadium 24 hours later. Steven Donnelly posted his second WSB win for the Hussars of Poland on a unanimous decision over Brian Cabella of the USA Knockouts in Miami, and Gary Sweeney won on his WSB debut for the Mexico Guerreros against Jitaur Ionut-Mirel of the British Lionhearts in London.The Ukraine edged Ireland 5-4 in a women’s international at the National Stadium. Michael O’Reilly had to settle for silver at the Strandja multi-nations in the Bulgaria after losing to Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev, who shaded O’Reilly on a split in the World Elite 75kg semi-final in October. Paddy Barnes beat Kazakhstan’s Asian champion Temirtas Zhussupov in the WSB in Central Asia, but Michael Conlan controversially dropped a split verdict to back-pedalling AIBA World No. 1 Kariat Yeraliyev.The Irish women’s team and the Ukraine drew 4-4 in Kildare, with Dervla Duffy scoring an impressive decision over AIBA World No. 7 Maryna Malovona.

March

Steven Donnelly recorded his third straight win in the WSB for the Hussars of Poland over Puerto Rico’s Nicklaus Flaz in Wyszków and Anna Moore, Michaela Walsh, Lauren Hogan and Amy Broadhurst represented Irish boxing at reception hosted by President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina to mark International Women’s Day at Áras an Uachtaráin. Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan registered landslide victories for Italia Thunder versus the USA Knockouts in Roseto Degli Abruzzi in the WSB, and the Drimnagh BC, who celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, claimed the Ambassadors Cup in Pittsburgh, USA on St Patrick’s Day. At the National Stadium, Ireland’s male and female prospects fought it out at the Open Senior Cadet and Youths Championships. Steven Donnelly chalked up his fourth win in the WSB and Adam Nolan won on his WSB debut for Italia Thunder, but Tipperary super-heavy Dean Gardiner, boxing for the Mexico Guerreros, was unlucky to lose on a split in Algeria in his first WSB outing. England beat the Irish women’s youth and junior sides 6-3 at the National Stadium and 5-4 at the Clan Naofa BC. At the Gee Bee Multi-Nations in Finland, Brendan Irvine (gold), Adam Nolan (gold), Myles Casey (silver), Conor Coyle (silver), Kurt Walker (bronze) and George Bates (bronze) medalled and Nolan collected the Best Boxer Award. “The entire team were absolutely outstanding. You couldn’t have asked any more of them,” said Irish team manager Peter O’Donnell.

April

World Junior champion Willie Donoghue, with Billy McClean and Fergal McKenna working his corner, got April off to a flying start with a gold medal performance at the Nikolay Pavlyukov Youth Memorial in Anapa and Michael Nevin won silver. The Boy 1,2 3 Championships began at the National Stadium and were completed 225 bouts later. Steven Donnelly registered his fifth successive win in the WSB following a 69kg slug-fest with Dario Morello of Italia Thunder in Italy to move into contention for qualification for Rio 2016. Finland beat the Irish women’s team 5-3 at the St Brigid’s BC in Edenderry. Michaela Walsh, Joanne Lambe and Emma Agnew had their hands raised in victory for Ireland, while the Boy 4 and Youth 1 & 2 and Girls, 1,2,3,4 and Youth 1, 2 Championships commenced at the National Stadium. The big story of the month was Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan booking Olympic quota places away to Venezuela in the WSB.Barnes beat Finol Ravas on a split decision to record his 7th straight victory and Conlan topped Jose Diaz 49-46 across the board on a unanimous verdict amid a red hot and partisan atmosphere. Barnes and Conlan and Irish coach John Conlan flew over 30,000 miles into three continents to secure two Olympic berths in one of the most remarkable achievements of the year not only in Irish boxing, but in Irish sport. Elsewhere, Finland beat Ireland 4-2 at the Ballina BC, with Ceire Smith and Clare Grace winning for Ireland. Steven Donnelly and Adam Nolan were edged out in the WSB.

May

The Boy 4 and Youth and 2 Championships concluded at the National Stadium and the Girls Championships began. The Olympic Council of Ireland confirmed all squads for the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan and Team Ireland jetted into Taiwan for the World Youth and Junior Women’s Championships, while, in Kerry, Katie Taylor recorded her second victory of the weekend at the Trojan BC and AIBA confirmed that seeding would be in operation for June’s European Games. The World Women’s Youth and Junior Championships were resolved in mid May. Juniors Niamh Earley (silver), Joanne Richard (bronze) and Kelsey Leonard (bronze) finished in podium positions and Natasha Logan bagged Youth bronze. In Lviv, Ukraine, Jason Harty (gold), Jim O’Reilly (silver), Anthony Johnston (bronze) and Lorcan Hurley (bronze) medalled at the European Junior Championships. Hurley, who was beaten in a highly controversial result in the semi-finals, also scooped the Best Technical Boxer Award, a de facto admittance by officials that he won his semi-final. Philip Rooney was presented with the Best Referee and Judge (R&J) Award in Lviv. “The entire squad performed magnificently,” said coach Billy McClean. The National U/18 Championships began at the National Stadium and David Oliver Joyce lost controversially to Uzbek lightweight Hurshid Tojabaev despite a big performance in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in an AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) lightweight bout. Joyce dominated most of the rounds, but Tojabaev was handed a 77-75 unanimous decision across the board in his own backyard after eight frames in an eliminator for a shot at qualifying for the Olympic Games.

June

Team Ireland arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan for the inaugural European Games. Elsewhere, Joe Ward’s Olympic dreams had to be put on ice after he lost to French light-heavy Mathieu Bauderlique in an APB eliminator in Sofia, Bulgaria. Katie Taylor led out Team Ireland at the spectacular opening ceremony for the 1st European Games in Baku and Adam Nolan and Michael O’Reilly got Ireland off to a flying start in the Azeri capital. Domestically, the Girls Championships got underway at the Stadium. Later that month, Taylor and Michael O’Reilly won double gold in Baku. Brendan Irvine secured silver and Sean McComb took home bronze. Taylor also scooped the Best Female Athlete Award on the occasion of her 18th major gold medal win. She was also selected as the AIBA Boxer of the Month for June.

July

Irish boxing celebrated the anniversary of John McNally’s iconic Olympic silver medal win in Helsinki in 1952 – a first Olympic medal for Ireland in boxing – and the opening bell tolled for the Open Senior Cadet Championships at the National Stadium. The Irish men’s squad headed to Sheffield for a training camp before the European Elites and David Oliver Joyce was adjudged to have drawn in an APB fight after suffering a cut on his head against Brazilian Olympian Robson Conceicao in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Elsewhere, Joe Ward scored a unanimous verdict over Joe Kennedy- St Pierre of Mauritius in APB in Sofia, Bulgaria. London 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill was named Irish team captain for the European Elite Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria.

August

Team Ireland decamped to Samokov and AIBA announced that David Oliver Joyce, who was ahead on points, had got the decision over Conceicao from their APB clash the previous month. Paddy Gallagher issued a final call for the popular Gormanstown training camp, and Darren O’Neill, Dean Gardiner and Adam Nolan won three from three for Ireland at the European Elites – which like the European Games in June, was a qualifier for the World Elite Men’s Championships – in Samokov. Michael Conlan and Joe Ward claimed double gold in Samokov following decisions over Qais Ashfaq (England) and Peter Mullenburg (Netherlands) in the bantam and light-heavy finals. Conlan also walked off with the Best Boxer Award to mark the second occasion that Ireland scooped the accolade after John Joe Nevin at the 2013 European Elites in Belarus. “Absolutely delighted with the performances of the entire squad,” said team manager Peter O’Donnell. Dean Walsh won bronze in Samokov to help Ireland finish in second spot in the medals table behind Russia at the 37-nation event. Ward also became the first Irish male boxer to win two European Elite titles. The Quick Park sponsored Irish team arrived home from the European Youth and Junior Women’s Championships in Keszthely, Hungary with a cluster of medals. Amy Broadhurst and Saoirse Dignam won Youth gold and silver and Orla Garvey and Shauna O’Callaghan collected double silver in the Junior event, with Chloe Callender, Caitlin Fryers and Kelsey Leonard, Katelynn Phelan and Lauren Kelly securing bronze.

September

Eamer Coughlan (silver), Paddy Donovan (silver) and Paul Ryan (bronze) finished in podium positions at the World Junior Championships in St Petersburg, Russia to help Team Ireland finish in 7th spot in the rankings table and in 9th position in the medals table. In Warsaw, Poland, Ceire Smith stunned current World Elite champion Marlen Esparza (USA) on a split decision win en route to silver at the Felix Stamm Memorial and Michael O’Reilly and Wayne Kelly bagged gold and silver, while in the Brandenburg Youth Cup in Frankfurt/Oder, Germany, Francis Cleary claimed gold and the Best Technical Boxer Award and Shane Flavin won silver. Team Ireland departed for their final training camp before the World Men’s Elites in Doha, Qatar and some of Ireland’s top Elites entered for the international Celtic Box Cup in Dungarvan. Bernie Harold made history after becoming the first ever female President of a Provincial Council (Leinster) in the 104-year history of the IABA and Michael Conlan was named Irish skipper for the World Elite Championships in Doha, Qatar. In the South Pacific, coaches John Conlan and Damien Kennedy steered Northern Ireland to five medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games and pole position in the medals table in Samoa.  Stephen McKenna (gold), James McGivern (gold), Tiernan Bradley (silver), Aiden Walsh (gold) and Brett McGinty (silver) occupied podium positions.

October

Pat Ryan was elected President of the IABA on October 4th at National Convention in Ennis, Clare. The Portlaoise BC man, speaking after his election, thanked the Irish boxing fraternity for their support and said it was an honour and a privilege to be elected President of Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport. Joe Hernon was elected Vice President and Sean Crowley re-elected National Secretary. Stephen Connolly and Larry Morrisson were returned unopposed and Seamus Dowling, Eugene O’Kane, Paddy Osbourne, Philip Rooney, Gerry Storey, Antionette Faye and Mary Butler were elected to the Boxing Council in the Banner County.In the Middle East, Irish team captain Michael Conlan was confronted by a giant promotional poster featuring himself outside the venue for the AIBA World Elite Men’s Championships in Doha, Qatar. Conlan certainly lived up to his star billing, the Belfast man becoming the first Irish male boxer to win a World Elite gold medal on a unanimous decision over Murodjon Akhmadaliev (Uzbekistan) in the 56kg decider. When Conlan returned home from Doha his baby daughter, Luisne, immediately confiscated the medal that Irish boxing had been searching for since the inaugural World Championships in Havana in 1974 and added it to her collection, one of the most impressive in international boxing. The new world champion was delighted to hand it over: “I’m bringing it (gold) home to my wee daughter (Luisne), my fiancée (Shauna) and my mum and dad and the rest of my family,” said the World No. 1.Joe Ward settled for silver in Doha after losing to Cuba’s Julio La Cruz in the light-heavy final, La Cruz winning his third successive gold at this level against the 21-year-old European champion. However, the Irish southpaw was coming away with a World Elite silver and a ticket for the Olympics as the top two light-heavyweights (the finalists) in Doha qualified for Rio 2016. Michael O’Reilly claimed bronze on the Arabian Peninsula, but the Portlaoise BC middleweight was somehow adjudged to have lost to Hossam Abdin of Egypt in the box-off for a place at the Olympics. A forensic frame-by-frame breakdown of a video of that bout by an experienced boxing analyst shows that O’Reilly clearly won. The 2015 World Men’s Championships marked the first time that Ireland earned three medals at this level. Team Ireland finished in 4th spot in the medals table. “Fantastic performances all round and the team can be very proud of the medals they won,” said team manager Joe Hennigan. The Intermediate Championships got underway at the National Stadium, while in Washington, Katie Taylor was selected as the Best Female Athlete in all sports from the inaugural 2015 European Games in Baku at the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) Awards. The IABA issued a statement in relation to the resignation of Billy Walsh, amid a tsunami  of media attention, as Irish head coach. Zuar Antia was appointed interim head coach and the National Intermediate finals were decided.

November

Michael Conlan moved to No. 1 in the AIBA World bantam rankings, joining Katie Taylor and John Joe Nevin, who has since switched codes, as one of three Irish boxers to occupy top spot. Joe Ward and Michael O’Reilly moved to No. 3 in the light-heavy and middleweight classes and Brendan Irvine improved to No. 7 at light-fly. Ireland’s young boxers claimed five medals at the European Schoolboy Championships in Anapa, Russia.Stephen Cairns (silver), Brandon McCarthy (silver), Ethan McGuckin (silver), Michael McDonald (silver) and Francis Quinn (bronze) finish in Podium positions. Russia won an eyebrow-raising 14 gold medals in Anapa.The IABA confirmed that the National Elites Men’s and Women’s Championships will be held in November and December to facilitate Ireland’s boxers heading into the Olympic qualifiers in 2016 and IABA President Pat Ryan and CEO Fergal Carruth attended the opening of the impressive interim headquarters for Cork boxing in Churchfield. Katie Taylor won her first Irish title in the ring against the gallant Shauna O’Keeffe in the Quick Park Irish Women’s Elite Championships. Lauren Hogan, Michaela Walsh, Christina Desmond, Dervla Duffy, Moira McElligott, Kelly Harrington, Clare Grace and Dianna Campbell also emerged victorious. “Excellent performances all round,” said Al Morris at ringside at the Stadium. Elsewhere, Ireland’s young boxers completed our most successful European Youth campaign. Michael Nevin (gold), James McGivern (silver), Stephen McKenna (silver), Willie Donoghue (bronze), and John Joyce (bronze) medalled in Kolobrzeg, Poland, The haul, which ensured that Ireland have taken home silverware from every international event entered in 2015, saw the Boys in Green finish in second spot in the rankings table and in third spot in the medals table at the 38-nation tournament. “We’re very pleased and proud the performances of the entire squad in Poland,” said Irish coach John Conlan.

December

Irish boxing received a massive boost early in December after the International Boxing Association confirmed that Steven Donnelly had qualified for Rio 2016. The All Saints BC welter qualified through the World Series of Boxing (WSB) after winning five of his six outings for the Hussars of Poland and finishing in the top two. Other results did go his way following a highly convoluted sequence involving AOB, WSB and APB – which would probably require a degree course in advanced maths at Trinity College to comprehend! – but Irish coach Eddie Bolger correctly stressed that he earned his place at the 31st Olympiad. “Stephen is there on merit. He won five of his six fights in the WSB and we are absolutely delighted for him,” he said, a view which was echoed by IABA President and CEO Pat Ryan and Fergal Carruth. The Elite Championships were held for a second time this year in December to facilitate Ireland’s boxers heading into the Olympic qualifiers in 2016. Brendan Irvine was celebrating on the double after taking the 52kg belt and the Best Boxer Award at the Men’s Elites. Debutant Stephen McKenna, Kurt Walker, David Oliver Joyce, Dean Walsh, Adam Nolan, Michael O’Reilly, John Paul Delaney, Darren O’Neill and Dean Gardiner also had their hands raised in victory at the flagship tournament of Irish boxing. The Elites, which were presented by National Secretary Sean Crowley for the 30th time and broadcast live by TG4,, brought the curtain down on an eventful and successful 2015 for Irish boxing at home and abroad. Michael Conlan scooped the RTE Sports Person of the Year Award on December 19th to cap an incredible year for the Belfast bantamweight. Katie Taylor, Michael Carruth and Barry McGuigan are the only other Irish boxers to claim this award since its launch in 1985. In Russia, the Ulster team claimed one gold and three silver medals courtesy of Kurt Walker, TJ Waite, Gary McKenna and Steven Ward at a multi-nation tournament in Rostov.

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