Boxing

Irish boxers handed tough draw ahead of Tokyo 2020 start

Lisburn featherweight Kurt Walker will be the first Irish boxer between the ropes at Tokyo 2020 when he faces Spaniard Jose Brotons in the last 32 tomorrow. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

IF Ireland are to exceed expectations at the Olympic Games, they will have to do it the hard away after being handed a tough draw in Tokyo – with Kurt Walker the first to launch his medal quest in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Three of the seven-strong team, seeds Kellie Harrington and Michaela Walsh as well as her welterweight brother Aidan, have been handed byes into the last 16, but some tough assignments lie ahead.

It was at the draw announcement in Rio five years ago when it came to light that middleweight Michael O’Reilly had failed a drugs test, plunging the Irish team into disarray and ultimately proving the first of several shocking moments in a disastrous campaign.

Thankfully, there was no such drama on the eve of Tokyo 2020, but the draw has left plenty to mull over.

For featherweight Walker, who hasn’t boxed competitively since his European qualifier defeat to Germany’s Hamsat Shadalov 16 months ago, it is a showdown with Spaniard Jose Brotons in the last 32 tomorrow (4.03am Irish time approx).

Should he manage to overcome that challenge, number one seed Mirazezbek Mirzakhalijov would lie in wait next Wednesday morning.

Team captain Brendan Irvine - who, alongside Kellie Harrington, will carry the Irish flag at today’s opening ceremony - has been paired with Filipino Carlo Paalam in the last 32 on Monday (4.03am approx).

This is Irvine’s second Olympics, having also competed in Rio, and he finds himself on the same side of the flyweight draw as 2016 conqueror and eventual gold medallist Shakhobidin Zoirov. However, to keep any hopes of a rematch alive, ‘Wee Rooster’ will have to overcome Paalam and then Algeria’s fourth seed Mohamed Flissi on Saturday, July 31.

There were mixed results from the draw for the west Belfast Walsh siblings.

As well as being handed a bye, Aidan will also face the winner of tomorrow’s last 32 clash between Cameroon’s Albert Ayissi and Thabiso Dlamani from Swaziland when he makes his Olympic bow on Tuesday (3.30am approx). Win that and he is one victory from a medal.

Featherweight fourth seed Michaela also goes straight into the last 16 on Monday morning (6.27am approx), though she won’t have it easy no matter who comes out of tomorrow’s preliminary round clash between Italy’s Irma Testa and Russian Liudmila Vorontsova.

Both are familiar foes for Walsh, who lost out to Vorontsova at the 2019 World Championships, while Testa came up trumps when the pair met in the final of the recent European qualifier in Paris.

Lightweight number one seed Kellie Harrington, fresh from her podium-topping success at Le Grande Dome, will take on the winner of Tuesday’s last 32 showdown between Italy’s Rebecca Nicoli and Mexican Esmerelda Falcon Reyes.

Harrington will enter the fray on Friday morning (3am approx), though she looks to have landed on the kinder side of the draw and will fancy her chances of going far. Britain’s Caroline Dubois, who the Dubliner defeated in Paris last month, is a potential semi-final opponent should both reach that stage.

It couldn’t be much tougher for light-heavyweight Emmet Brennan as he takes on Uzbek Dilshod Uzmetov on Sunday afternoon (12.42pm). If he negotiates that difficult last 32 clash, a meeting with Azerbaijan’s number two seed Loren Berto Dominguez awaits on Wednesday.

Roscommon middleweight Aoife O'Rourke, meanwhile, is two fights away from a medal, with just 16 fighters lining up in that weight division. However, to keep her dream alive she must defeat Chinese second seed Qian Li on Wednesday (10.18am).

INSET IF NEEDED/WANTED

TOKYO 2020 SCHEDULE

Saturday

57kg last 32 (4.03am): K Walker v J Brotons (Spain)

Sunday

81kg last 32 (12.42pm): E Brennan v D Uzmetov (Uzbekistan)

Monday

52kg last 32 (4.03am): B Irvine v C Paalam (Philippines)

57kg last 16 (6.27am): M Walsh v I Testa (Italy)/L Vorontsova (Russia)

Tuesday

69kg last 16 (3.30am): A Walsh v A Ayissi (Cameroon)/T Dlamani (Swaziland)

Wednesday

75kg last 16 (10.18am): A O’Rourke v L Qian (China)

Friday (July 30)

60kg last 16 (3am): K Harrington v R Nicoli (Italy)/E Falcon Reyes (Mexico)

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