Aidan Walsh has final opportunity to seal spot at Paris Olympics

Ireland name seven-strong team for final World qualifier in Bangkok

On his return to the ring, Ireland's Aidan Walsh proved far too strong for the UAE’s Husain Alkandari.
Aidan Walsh won his first bout against UAE’s Husain Alkandari at the World qualifier in Italy, but bowed out before the quota places. Picture by Tara Mari Robins

TOKYO bronze medallist Aidan Walsh will have another opportunity to reach the Paris Olympics after being named in Ireland’s seven-strong team bound for the final World qualifier later this month.

The Holy Family light-middleweight - bidding to join big sister Michaela at a second consecutive Games - returned from over a year out of the ring to box at the first World qualifier in March.

However, despite winning his opening bout, Walsh came up short against experienced Brazilian Wanderson de Oliveira in Italy, and had to come through an assessment with Mullaghbawn’s Eugene McKeever to earn another crack.

At the final qualifier, which gets under way in Bangkok later this month (May 21-June 2), there will be five quota places up for grabs at 71kg as the west Belfast man aims to book his place in Paris.

Indeed, there is a familiar look to this team, with all seven having boxed in Busto Arsizio –Grainne Walsh (66kg) and Kelyn Cassidy (80kg) came desperately close to securing quota places, while Daina Moorehouse (50kg), Jennifer Lehane (54kg), Sean Mari (51kg) and super-heavy Martin McDonagh will all be determined to grasp this opportunity.

Moorehouse has been on the cusp of qualification twice already, while McDonagh was among Ireland’s most impressive performers in Italy, and can take huge confidence from that showing.

Four Olympic quota places are available for Moorehouse, Lehane, Grainne Walsh, Mari and McDonagh, and three for Cassidy.

The team departs for a multi-nations camp in Hua Hin, Thailand on Wednesday, with all aiming to join the six who have already qualified – Tokyo gold medallist Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife O’Rourke Dean Clancy, Jack Marley and Jude Gallagher, the only Irish boxer to go all the way in the first World qualifier.

“This is a highly focused team of exceptional athletes,” said Irish High Performance director Tricia Heberle.

“Every boxer, having contested the first Olympic World qualifier, knows the task ahead of them. Their commitment to training and self-improvement has been strongly led by head coach Zauri Antia and ably supported by Damian Kennedy, Eoin Pluck, James Doyle and Lynne McEnery.

“The contribution of club coaches also needs to be recognised, as does the vital role that coaches from the High Performance 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 six of these already achieved, we are on track.”

And Antia – a veteran of previous Games in Beijing, London, Rio and Tokyo – has no doubt the Irish team is ready to do the business.

“The competition in Bangkok will be tough,” said the Georgian.

“Boxers are chasing their last chance to become Paris Olympians, and will battle to the final bell. 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.”

As with the first World qualifier, boxers will fight to quota, meaning there will be no semi-finals or finals, and no medals handed out.