Boxing

Irish team can shock the world in Tokyo insists coach John Conlan

Even though big names like Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor have moved on since Rio 2016, coach John Conlan believes Ireland's boxing team is capable of big things at Tokyo 2020. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

THE Irish boxing team returned home empty-handed from a disastrous Olympic Games in Rio five years ago, but Irish coach John Conlan is confident the class of 2021 is ready to shock the world in Tokyo.

Having been postponed for a year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tokyo 2020 will finally get under way on July 24 – with Ulster trio Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker and Aidan Walsh among those expected to step between the ropes on the opening day

Star names like Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Joe Ward and Katie Taylor have moved on since Rio 2016, leaving expectations lower this time around as a less experienced crew goes for glory.

But Conlan is confident that, despite all the challenges that Covid has thrown their way, the seven-strong Irish team is capable of delivering on the biggest of stages.

“Every athlete going out here, if they perform, can do well.

“There’s the luck of the draw, for some of them this is only their second or third major tournament against guys who have been in a couple of Olympic cycles, maybe six or seven Worlds or Europeans.

“That experience is really important, but I think we’ll shock people. Some of our guys will do really well. This team, being underdogs, we always punch above our weight – small budget, small island, small amount of athletes that participate compared to other countries, the powerhouses, yet we still achieve success way above what we should.”

And, on the back of recent success at the European U22 Championships, Conlan feels Irish boxing is ready for another resurgence after some difficult years.

“We had a tough time in Rio but we have some phenomenal coaches out there.

“I just think we need to keep focusing on developing that talent and getting that pathway – Covid has blocked that pathway. People seem to think the High Performance has stopped that.

“When clubs haven’t been able to train, a lot of athletes have seen the potential of their Olympic weight changing, opportunities to go pro… boxers have always gone pro. When my sons were boxing the amount of guys who went pro then, I was shocked.

“I don’t blame any young man who wants to go pro but if you’re asking me is Irish boxing in a good place? Absolutely. With the young talent coming through, there is a big future.”

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Boxing