Boxing

Brendan Irvine chasing Olympic dream again as Ireland qualifier squad named

Brendan Irvine is gunning for the opportunity to become a two-time Olympian after being selected on the Ireland team bound for next month's Tokyo 2020 qualifier in London. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

Amateur boxing: Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifier

BRENDAN Irvine will go in search of a spot at a second Olympic Games in-a-row next month after being named in Ireland’s squad for the Tokyo 2020 European qualifier.

The 23-year-old is one of five Ulster representatives on the 13-strong Irish team that will compete at London’s Copperbox Arena, with the qualification tournament running from March 13-24.

Irvine is joined by reigning European Games champion and Irish 57kg king Kurt Walker, west Belfast siblings Aidan and Michaela Walsh, and Cavan flyweight Ceire Smith.

Flyweight Irvine dramatically qualified for the Rio Games four years ago when he won a box-off against Bulgaria’s Daniel Asenov in Turkey, and will aim to repeat that feat a little closer to home this time around.

Injury has kept ‘Wee Rooster’ out of action for much of the past two years, first requiring a wrist operation before breaking his foot in a freak sparring accident last summer – just weeks before he was due to head off to the European Games in Belarus.

The Commonwealth Games silver medallist returned to the ring in Hungary earlier this month, losing out to Botswana’s Mohammed Rajab in the last 32. However, he now has a month to prepare for the qualifiers.

Jude Gallagher had looked set to push Irvine all the way for a spot on the Irish team after impressing en route to his Irish Elite title success last November.

However, weight struggles eventually took their toll on the Tyrone teenager, with the Two Castles ace now expected to enter next week’s Ulster Elite Championships at 57kg.

“The simple answer is that Jude has outgrown 52kg. He’s still only 18 and has grown an inch-and-a-half since the elites; it’s impossible to make 52,” said father and coach John Gallagher.

“It’s disappointing but nature has taken its course. Good luck to Brendan Irvine and the rest of Team Ireland.”

Walker and Michaela Walsh were always heavy favourites for selection in their weight class, while Aidan Walsh gets the nod ahead of Galway’s Kieran Molloy at welterweight. Smith, meanwhile, takes the 51 kilo spot on the team.

Michael Nevin is picked ahead of Gabriel Dossen at middleweight, with George Bates (light-welter), Emmett Brennan (light-heavy), Kiril Afanasev (heavy) and Dean Gardiner (super-heavy) also included.

Dublin’s former World Elite champion Kellie Harrington is, unsurprisingly, the lightweight choice, with current European middleweight Aoife O’Rourke and Cork middleweight Christina Desmond also selected.

It brings to an end weeks of speculation, with Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) High Performance director Bernard Dunne admitting competition for places had made selection “a challenge”.

“We have some really good athletes pushing each other for places, so it has been a challenge to select our squad, but we have picked the best team to compete at the first qualifier in London,” he said.

“We would be looking for some good performances from our team. We have two opportunities to qualify, London and Paris (May 13-20), so we will review the squad post-London.

“Preparations have gone well so far, and we head to Italy on Monday for a sparring camp which will then lead us into the qualifier.

“They’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point, so if they perform to the best of their ability in London, that is all we can ask of them.”

IRISH SQUAD

European qualifiers for Tokyo 2020 (March 13-24)

Male

52kg: B Irvine (St Paul’s)

57kg: K Walker (Canal)

63kg: G Bates (St Mary’s, Dublin)

69kg: A Walsh (Monkstown)

75kg: M Nevin (Portlaoise)

81kg: E Brennan (Dublin Docklands)

91kg: K Afanasev (Smithfield)

91+kg: D Gardiner (Clonmel)

Female

51kg: C Smith (Cavan)

57kg: M Walsh (Monkstown)

60kg: K Harrington (St Mary’s, Dublin)

69kg: C Desmond (Fr Horgan’s, Cork)

75kg: A O’Rourke (Castlerea)

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