Aidan Walsh back in Olympic frame after qualifier selection

A chest infection has ruled Aidan Walsh out of this week's tournament in Poland. Picture by PA
Despite not having boxed competitively since February 2023, Aidan Walsh has been called into the Irish squad bound for next month's Olympic qualifier in Italy. Picture by PA

DESPITE being out of action for most of the past 12 months, Aidan Walsh has forced his way back into the Paris 2024 frame after being named on the Irish team bound for next month’s Olympic qualifier in Italy.

Uncertainty surrounded the future of the Holy Family counter-puncher, who didn’t compete in October’s Irish elite championships, and lost out to Dean Walsh in the semi-final of January 2023′s national championships.

With Holy Trinity’s talented Jon McConnell also catching the eye of High Performance coaches, and Mullaghawn’s Eugene McKeever in the mix too after reaching the 71kg final against Dean Walsh, it appeared as though Aidan Walsh was not part of the selection conversation.

However, with a proven style on the international stage - one which landed him bronze at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo – the 26-year-old had been subject to a behind-closed-doors assessment process alongside Dean Walsh and McKeever during recent months.

That included a warm weather training camp in Tenerife at the end of last year, and Walsh – whose last competitive bout was at the Strandja international tournament last February - must have impressed coaches sufficiently to claim his spot on the eight strong team that heads to the first World qualifier in Busto Arsizio from February 29-March 12.

As a result, he has the opportunity to join sister Michaela at a second consecutive Games, with the elder sibling having secured her place at the Paris Olympics at last summer’s European qualifier in Poland.

Also already qualified are Tokyo gold medallist Kellie Harrington, Aoife O’Rourke, Dean Clancy and heavyweight Jack Marley, while Tyrone’s Jude Gallagher gets a second crack at nailing his Olympic spot after impressively finishing top of the pile at the last Irish elites.

Joining Walsh and Gallagher in Italy are Daina Moorehouse (50kg), Jennifer Lehane (54kg), Grainne Walsh (66kg), Sean Mari (51kg), Kelyn Cassidy (80kg and super-heavy Martin McDonagh, who claimed three Irish U22, senior and elite titles in a 10-month period in 2023.

Outside of the men’s bantam and light-middleweight divisions, the women’s 66kg was highly competitive – with Grainne Walsh pipping 2022 World champions Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke to a place on the team.

Four quota places are available in Busto Arsizio in each of the weight classes Irish boxers contest, therefore earning a semi-final spot is enough to secure qualification.

The team will take part in a training camp in Assisi ahead of the World qualifier, while others members of the training squad will travel to the Strandja tournament in Bulgaria from February 2-12.

“This is a wonderful team,” said Irish Athletic Boxing Association head coach Zaur Antia.

“Their preparations have been excellent, and they are very focused. It is a great honour, and a remarkable achievement, to box for Ireland at this level, in the hope of becoming an Olympian.

“I congratulate each and every one of the boxers, and their clubs, club coaches and families.”

For High director Tricia Heberle, meanwhile, the aim is to build on the five already qualified to ensure Ireland have the best possible chance of bringing home medals from the French capital this summer.

She said: “After a testing six-month evaluation process, these eight athletes have thoroughly earned selection for the first World Olympic qualifying tournament.

“Their commitment to training and self-improvement has been strongly led by head coach Zauri Antia, and ably supported by Damian Kennedy. The contribution of club coaches also needs to be recognised, as does the vital role that coaches from the Paris pool coach programme have played.

“Without these coaches working cooperatively for the betterment of their athletes, we would not feel as well-prepared heading into such an important Olympic qualifier event.

“We have set a target of eight qualifications for the Paris Olympic Games and with five of these already achieved at the 2023 European Games, we are on-track and may well qualify a bigger team.”

West Belfast club Holy Trinity entered 10 boxers in the Irish elite championships. Pictured are, from left, Davy McDonagh, Gemma McDonnell, Mosa Kambule, Karl McCrystal, Clepson dos Santos, Jon McConnell, Bryce Collins, Teo Alin, Jake Tucker and Luke Mooreglass
West Belfast club Holy Trinity entered 10 boxers in the Ulster elite championships. Pictured are, from left, Davy McDonagh, Gemma McDonnell, Mosa Kambule, Karl McCrystal, Clepson dos Santos, Jon McConnell, Bryce Collins, Teo Alin, Jake Tucker and Luke Mooreglass

JP HALE will have his sights set on landing a fourth Ulster elite crown when he steps between the ropes at the Girdwood Community Hub on Wednesday night.

The Star man - who competed at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham - announced his Ulster elite arrival with barnstorming bouts against friend and foe Colm Murphy in 2019 and 2020, taking the bantamweight title both those years.

Hale also came up with the goods at the Guildhall in Derry last night to complete the hat-trick, and will be eyeing up another by the end of this week.

Despite being only 23, Hale is one of the most experienced boxers scheduled to compete at the Ulster elites, opening up against Ballyshannon’s Luke McAleer on Wednesday night.

On the other side of the draw is Erne’s Anthony Malanaphy, who lost out to Hale in last year’s 63.5kg decider – though Malanaphy must wait to discover who he will face as he takes on the winner of Monday night’s quarter-final between Luke Mooreglass (Holy Trinity) and Holy Family’s Rory Lavery.

There are some other interesting semi-final clashes to look forward to, with Holy Trinity’s Bryce Collins take on Padraig Downey (St John Bosco) at 48kg, with the winner up against Star’s Louis Rooney – a cousin of JP Hale – on Friday.

There is a clash of the Richmonds at 67kg with Clonard’s Nathan taking on Cairn Lodge’s Gianni, with last year’s beaten finalist Cahir Gormley comes up against Charles McDonagh (St John Bosco) in the other semi-final.

Having been handed a walkover at 60kg, two time Commonwealth Games silver medallist Carly McNaul will take on Emerald’s Courtney McCrudden in a special contest on Friday night.

Jake Tucker, McNaul’s Commonwealth Games team-mate in Birmingham, has his first fight back at Holy Trinity, with club-mate Mosa Kambule also hoping to end a long spell out of the ring with an Ulster title.


Wednesday (7.30pm)


48kg: P Downey (St John Bosco) v B Collins (Holy Trinity)

63.5kg: JP Hale (Star) v L McAleer (Ballyshannon), A Malanaphy (Erne) v L Mooreglass (Holy Trinity)/R Lavery (Holy Family)

67kg: N Richmond (Clonard) v G Richmond (Cairn Lodge), C McDonagh (St John Bosco) v C Gormley (Illies GG)

75kg: K McCrystal (Holy Trinity) v L Weston (Emerald)

Friday (7pm)

Boy 6 80kg: B Coulter (GG Kilkeel) J Muckian (Silverbridge)

Special contests

57kg/60kg: C McNaul (Ormeau Road) v C McCrudden (Emerald)

86kg/92kg: A Taggart (Ormeau Road) v D McDonagh (Holy Trinity)


48kg: C Irving (Oakleaf) v C Fleck (Canal)

48kg: L Rooney (Star) v P Downey (St John Bosco)/B Collins (Holy Trinity)

54kg: M Boreland (Churchlands) v J Harkin (Oakleaf)

60kg: R Owens (Erne) v T Alin (Holy Trinity)

63.5kg: JP Hale (Star)/L McAleer (Ballyshannon) v A Malanaphy (Erne)/L Mooreglass (Holy Trinity)/R Lavery (Holy Family)

67kg: N Richmond (Clonard)/G Richmond (Cairn Lodge) v C McDonagh (St John Bosco)/C Gormley (Illies GG)

71kg: J McConnell (Holy Trinity) v M McCole (Illies GG)

75kg: M Kambule (Holy Trinity) v K McCrystal (Holy Trinity)/L Weston (Emerald)

80kg: C McKernan (Castleblayney) v J Tucker (Holy Trinity)

92+kg: WJ McCartan (Gilford) v T Seaton (Ormeau Road)

Walkovers – 51kg: C Dos Santos (Holy Trinity); 57kg: D Keary (Rathfriland); 86kg: A Taggart (Ormeau Road); 92kg: D McDonagh (Holy Trinity); 50kg: C Fryers (Immaculata); 54kg: N Clyde (Antrim); 57kg: C McCrudden (Emerald); 60kg: C McNaul (Ormeau Road); 63kg: C Coiley (Clonard); 66kg: G McDonnell (Holy Trinity)


West Belfast club Holy Trinity entered 10 boxers in the Irish elite championships. Pictured are, from left, Davy McDonagh, Gemma McDonnell, Mosa Kambule, Karl McCrystal, Clepson dos Santos, Jon McConnell, Bryce Collins, Teo Alin, Jake Tucker and Luke Mooreglass