The dust has settled on a disappointing Olympics for Irish boxing and the eight-strong team now looks set to be ravaged by defections to the pros, retirements, and a drugs ban.
However, the show must go on and attentions will turn to the Tokyo 2020 Games where Ireland will hope to be back among the medals.
Four years are a long time, and some boxers who will end up on the Irish team in the Far East may not yet even be known to the most hardcore boxing aficionados.
Indeed with the lure of the pro game, growth and talent spurts, as well as the general unpredictability of boxing, means that we really don’t know who will be in the frame for Tokyo 2020 – but it’s interesting to have a go.
We do acknowledge that it is hard to do an exhaustive list and we’re sure there are plenty of fighters who have flown under our radar and are not included here – we stress that it’s nothing personal!
So, here is our look at who could be Tokyo contenders across the ten men’s weights.
Light Flyweight – 49kg
As Paddy Barnes found out to his detriment in Rio, it is extremely difficult to make weight and perform at light fly. Reigning Elite champion Stevie McKenna (Old School) has already outgrown the 49kg limit, while U18 champion Jordan Moore (Glasnevin) has a huge frame and is unlikely to be at light flyweight for much longer. That leaves the like of Elite runner-up Regan Buckley (St Theresa’s), Illies GG pair John and Darryl Moran, or European Junior silver medalist Terry Donoghue (St Michaels Athy), as well as the countless number of underage fighters who could come from nowhere in the next couple of years.
Flyweight – 52kg
In pole position here will be Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine (St Pauls) who will have grown fully into the weight by the time Tokyo rolls around and could be a real medal hope. The Belfast man however will have to negotiate his own Irish rivals first which will include Stevie McKenna, Jordan Moore, slick Belfast U18 champ Conor Quinn (Clonard), and 2013 World Junior champ Willie Donoghue (St Michael’s Athy)
Bantamweight – 56kg
The man to take over from Mick Conlan looks set to be reigning Elite champion Kurt Walker (Canal), although he will have to fend off the advances from the likes of the big-punching Terry McEntee (Old School).
Lightweight – 60kg
There is a huge pool of talent at lightweight. The 6’2″ Gary Cully (Naas) will be hard to beat and is thought very highly of by Zaur Antia. George Bates (St Mary’s Dublin), so often denied by Sean McComb (Holy Trinity), will be hoping to make a breakthrough in coming years, while Gary McKenna (Old School) and Commonwealth silver medalist Tiernan Bradley (Sacred Heart) will also have their eyes on the spot. European Youth silver medalist Oliver McCarthy (Brian Dillons) will definitely be a contender, if he remains at the weight. Finally, slick Belfast teen James McGivern (St George’s) was seen as many, including the man himself, as a successor to Mick Conlan at bantam, but seemed to struggle at the weight at the recent U18s and a move up could be on the cards.
Light Welterweight – 64kg
Three-time National champion and European bronze medalist Dean Walsh (St Joseph’s/St Ibarr’s) intends to stay in the amateurs, and his division looks to be possibly the most jam-packed of them all. Should he stay in the amateurs, European Games bronze medalist Sean McComb will vie for the spot, while Wayne Kelly (Ballynacargy) and Aidan Walsh (Holy Family) expected to contend. Then there is James Cleary (Olympic), who proved at the last Elites that he is not far off Walsh, losing a narrow split decision. If you look at the young guns, 16 year old Riverstown warrior Eamer Coughlan, the U18 56kg champ, could end up at light welter, as could Oliver McCarthy, and decorated Limerick brothers Paddy and Edward Donovan (OLOL), while Conor Ivors (Clonmel) is also targetting Tokyo.
Welterweight – 69kg
A division that will most likely be left wide open. Kieran Molloy (Oughterard) has been declared a future star by many in the know, while the powerful Brett McGinty (Oakleaf) should also feature prominently over the next few years. U18 64kg champion Gabriel Dossen has plenty of growing left to do and could feature, as could Rathkeale’s Jason Harty.
Middleweight – 75kg
Middleweight should feature two of Ireland’s most successful ever underage boxers in John Joyce (St Michael’s Athy) and Michael Nevin (Portlaoise). National Elite runner-up Conor Wallace (St Monica’s) will also have something to say, although he admits to being tempted by the pro game. The very talented Martin Stokes (Holy Family Drogheda) also seems set to step up in weight, while World Junior bronze medalist Paul Ryan (Bay City) may eventually end up at middle.
Light Heavyweight – 81kg
Should Joe Ward (Moate) remain, both in the amateurs and at the weight, he has the talent to dominate over the coming years. However reigning Intermediate champion and decorated underage star Sean Conroy (Ballyhaunis) intends to make a splash at next year’s Seniors, and Belfast’s JP Delaney (Emerald) will not give up his title easily.
Heavyweight – 91kg
As we move into the heavier divisions it becomes more difficult to predict. The oft-discussed ‘man strength’ becomes more of a factor and the likelihood of a young gun roaring into contention lessens. A division in flux, the main man could be Russian-born Kiril Afanasev (Smithfield), while Joe Ward may eventually grow into the class.
Reigning Elite champion Dean Gardiner (Clonmel) has improved massively over the past few years and narrowly missed out on a fairytale Rio Qualification. 28 now, it is unsure whether he will want to stay on, but he is a relative newcomer to international competition and the big men also, in general, have a longer shelf-life so to speak. Dublin talent Thomas Carty (Glasnevin) is a man with he eyes on the spot however, as is U18 champion Kevin Sheehy (St Francis’s), and the Mongan cousins Martin Jim and Martin John (Ennis) may both feature in amateur boxing’s premier division.
Keep an eye out for part 2 where we look ahead to the women’s competition in 2020.