Irish coach Kennedy has 'no doubt' rising stars can clinch further Olympic spots

The Irish team left Poland on Monday, with five boxers having secured their qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris - Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife O'Rourke, Dean Clancy and Jack Marley
The Irish team left Poland on Monday, with five boxers having secured their qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris - Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife O'Rourke, Dean Clancy and Jack Marley The Irish team left Poland on Monday, with five boxers having secured their qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris - Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife O'Rourke, Dean Clancy and Jack Marley

IRISH coach Damian Kennedy has “no doubt” some of those who just missed out on clinching Olympic spots will still make it to Paris 2024.

Reigning champion Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh and Aoife O’Rourke will all become two-time Olympians at next summer’s Games, with Sligo stylist Dean Clancy and exciting heavyweight Jack Marley also part of the Irish team bound for the French capital.

But there are still opportunities for Ireland to qualify more boxers, with a further two World Olympic qualifiers taking place next year – the first likely to be held in March, with Italy a potential host, while the second expected to be in Asia in June.

Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jude Gallagher and Amy Broadhurst were among those who missed out on the four qualification spots at their weights in the European qualifier, which finished up on Sunday.

Gallagher lost a narrow opening bout to eventual bantamweight champion, Javier Ibanez Diaz – who won a 2014 Youth Olympic gold medal for Cuba before boxing for Bulgaria, while Broadhurst came up short against Rosie Eccles in the welterweight quarter-final.

Jennifer Lehane, Sean Mari, Dean Walsh, Daina Moorehouse and Kelyn Cassidy – who narrowly lost out to decorated Ukrainian Oleksandr Khyzhniak - are the others who will also go back into the mix when the Irish Elite Championships are held this autumn, with all determined to top the pile and force their way back into the Olympic qualification frame.

And Kennedy has no doubt this experience will stand to them further along the line.

“I know some of these guys go back into the pot, that’s just the nature of the beast in boxing, but I have no doubt in my mind a lot of these people will qualify for the Olympic Games.

“Just going on performances here, a lot of the newer ones, the like of Jude, Jenny Lehane, Daina Moorehouse, Keelyn Cassidy, they just act like high performers. They’ve just got it. The way they conduct themselves around the team and around this environment has just been brilliant to watch – and they all performed really well.

“As high performance coaches we’re not stupid enough to come here and think this is all our doing. We fully understand that there’s an amazing club structure in Ireland, some unbelievable club coaches – they give us the diamond and we just polish it and try to take it to the next level. That’s why we’re continuing to produce the talent we’re seeing.

“Gaining that international experience with us, that’s crucial to their development as well. I have no doubt in my mind there will be more qualification spots gained from this team.”

It will be interesting to see things unfold with Broadhurst, who won World and European gold either side of topping the podium in Birmingham during an unforgettable 2022.

However, after moving up to the 66kg weight class to pursue her Olympic dream, the Dundalk woman came up short against Grainne Walsh in January’s Irish final before losing out to Eccles in the last eight in Poland.

In an Instagram post after that fight last Wednesday, the 26-year-old cast some doubt on her future in the amateur vest.

“Heartbroken isn’t the word,” she said

“I always thought my destiny was the Olympic Games. I believed I was born for boxing, I was to be an Olympic champion, and that’s not the way it’s gone for me.

“I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know if I’ll ever strap an amateur glove around my hand again or if I’ll go pro.

“But I just want to say thank you to everyone who showed me support over the years. Thank you for standing by me through the highs and lows. Thank you to my family and the Irish coaches for everything.”

However, Kennedy believes time and space will ultimately dictate what Broadhurst does next.

He said: “Emotions run high whenever things don’t go your way. Sometimes you say some harsh things on the internet, it maybe doesn’t come out the way it’s meant to come out.

“She’ll take time to think, they will all have a well deserved break and do whatever they need to do to recharge the batteries. It’s all down to the individual – some are focused on the Olympic dream, other ones maybe have a pro mindset… we haven’t actually spoken to them about that yet.

“A few have to go into the national championships again, that’s just the nature of the beast, and Amy might be one of them.”

Meanwhile, Kennedy insists Kellie Harrington showed exactly why she remains the one to beat at the European Games.

The Dubliner, who will be 34 by the time next summer’s Games roll around, was in imperious form in Poland, topping the podium as she builds towards the defence of her Olympic crown in the French capital.

Carrying the expectation of a nation brings a different kind of pressure, but the Toome man believes it is something Harrington has learned to live with.

“Kellie’s the ultimate high performer,” he said.

“She lives the life and she knows exactly what she has to do. Everything’s done to a pattern and she’s a very focused young woman – a pleasure to be around and a pleasure for the rest of the team to be around because they can only learn from that wealth of experience she has.

“It is a different pressure, but it’s one that she handles really well. And she has an unbelievable repertoire of skills… no matter what is in front of her, she can adapt. That’s a huge asset.

“She’s like a fine wine, getting better with age, and she’s still the one to beat – everybody knows that.”

Likewise, Kennedy believes the experience of the Tokyo Olympics will stand to Belfast feather Michaela Walsh, after she secured her spot at a second consecutive Games.

“She’s a very driven girl who knows exactly what she wants. The priority for her coming here was qualification for the Olympic Games, which she got.

“She knows there’s room for improvement, same with every one of them, but the goal is getting to an Olympic Games and medalling in an Olympic Games – she is more than capable of that.”