Ireland must keep ‘raising the bar’ in bid for Paris Olympic glory

IABA High Performance director Tricia Heberle and head coach Zaur Antia were with the Irish squad at the Strandja multi-nations tournament
IABA High Performance director Tricia Heberle and head coach Zaur Antia were with the Irish squad at the Strandja multi-nations tournament

IRELAND have to keep “raising the bar” in their bid for Olympic glory, insists High Performance director Patricia Heberle.

Five boxers – Tokyo gold medallist Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife O’Rourke, a gold medallist at the Strandja tournament on Sunday, Dean Clancy and Jack Marley – have already secured their berth at this summer’s Games in Paris, while a further eight aim to join them at next month’s first World qualifier.

Tokyo bronze medallist Aidan Walsh, Tyrone featherweight Jude Gallagher, Sean Mari, Kelyn Cassidy, Martin McDonagh, Grainne Walsh, Jennifer Lehane and Daina Moorehouse all jetted off to Assisi last Friday for an intensive multi-nations camp ahead of the qualifier.

After a short return to Ireland, the team will back in Italy for the start of the competition in Busto Arsizio, which runs from March 3-11.

And Heberle, who took up the High Performance director post last year, believes Ireland – under the direction of head coach Zaur Antia - should be aiming to send its largest ever team to an Olympic Games.

“We are a highly successful sport, but we’ve got to keep raising the bar,” said the former Australia hockey player, who competed at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

“It would be easy for us to set soft targets. We’ve set eight, but we could qualify 10. The coaches and the athletes are working extremely hard, we’re doing some things in training that we probably haven’t done before.

“Zauri is very innovative, nothing stands still, we’ve brought some new coaches in and a lot of them have progressed in the last six months. The athletes raise the level of our coaches as well because they demand excellence all the time.

“In Assisi, it’s about putting the last bits of preparation in, getting some really good sparring against different countries and different styles. The draw is important, sometimes you need a little bit of luck, but we’ve got some very talented boxers who are going to be prepared really well.

“We’ve set ourselves a target of eight-plus, if we don’t quite get there in that first qualifier, the good thing is we get to go back, we’ve got a good block of six weeks, and then we push again.”

Depending on how events transpire in Italy, Ireland will send a team to the second World qualifier, which takes place in Bangkok from May 23-June 3.

And Heberle says the High Performance unit will re-evaluate upon its return from Italy, with the door remaining open to boxers battling for spots in weights where anyone is yet to qualify.

“We have already put it in the programme that when we come back from the first qualifier, we have a week of evaluation – evaluating boxers who have gone to the qualifier, evaluating the boxers who didn’t go to the qualifiers, and then we have to sit with the selection panel and Zauri has to determine whether he’s got a boxer he wants to go again, or he may say ‘you know what, I’ve got another boxer fit’.

“If we talk about the women’s 66, what brilliant talent we have. Amy Broadhurst has been carrying a shoulder injury, Lisa O’Rourke, a ferocious talent, broke a finger. Grainne’s going to the first one, we’d love Grainne to qualify, but [if she doesn’t] you come back and it’s a nightmare for Zauri because he’s got to look at some very talented boxers and make some very difficult decisions.

“A lot of countries would be very happy to have the competition we have in our squad.”

Meanwhile, the IABA has announced the appointment of Lynne McEnery (St Paul’s, Waterford) and James Doyle (Monkstown, Dublin) as High Performance development coaches.

The Immaculata winners at the recent County Antrim Boy/Girl 4 championships. Missing from picture is Carly Voyle
The Immaculata winners at the recent County Antrim Boy/Girl 4 championships. Missing from picture is Carly Voyle

IMMACULATA’S run of success rolls on after the west Belfast club landed four Antrim titles at last week’s County Antrim Boy/Girl 4 finals in Corpus Christi.

Jude Reilly (46kg), Padraig Walsh (52kg), Kai Dynes (54kg) and James Rooney (57kg) all came up trumps in the ring, while there were also walkover wins for Mac quintet Lee Largey-Snodden, Fra Regan, Gerard Smith, Zac Murray and Carly Voyle.

And coach Martin Lindsay has no doubt a bright future lies ahead for this talented group.

“They’ve been brilliant, they’re all really dedicated to it,” said the former British featherweight champion.

“Three of them were part of the Immaculata team that won the South Belfast Cup before Christmas, Padraig Walsh won a hurling Allstar with St Mary’s CBGS, so they’re still enjoying other sports as well as boxing.

“Even the younger crew, there are good kids coming through, and that’s the impact of this group filtering down. Hopefully the future is bright.”

There was also victory for Eddie Reilly (St Paul’s) over Cian Campbell in the 42kg final, with Phoenix’s Trevor Crumlish getting the better of Immaculata’s Conor Dowds.

Oliver Plunkett’s Ronan Sands received a walkover in his 66kg final against Joe Ritchie, while Conal Dunlop (St Paul’s), Owen McCann (St John Bosco), Caoimhin Dowds (Oliver Plunkett), Cara Weatherall (St Paul’s), Skye-Leigh Haighton (Evolution), Paige Nickles (Banbridge) and Cassie Henderson (Phoenix) also picked up titles via walkover.

The County Antrim team that heads to Rome later this week
The County Antrim team that heads to Rome later this week

A STRONG County Antrim team is to compete at an international tournament in Rome this weekend.

Newly-crowned Ulster elite champion Louis Rooney (Star), European schoolgirl champion Cassie Henderson (Phoenix) and 2022 European schoolboy bronze medallist Jordie Cookie (St John Bosco) are part of a 15-strong team that also includes Kane Brannigan (Lisburn), Adam McCaughey (Antrim), Conal Burns (Holy Trinity), Aaron Foster (Cairn Lodge), Caoimhin Doherty (St Paul’s), Cormac Curley (Star), Philip Rooney (Sacred Heart), Lee Largey-Snodden (Immaculata), Ciara Craig (Glengormley), Padraig Walsh (Immaculata), Harvey Cochrane (Castle) and Jayden Rubery (North Down).

Glengormley’s Bridget Scott is team manager, while the coach pool includes Marty Toland (Phoenix), Robbie Barr (St Paul’s) and Peter Devine (Oliver Plunkett), with Bertie Moore R&J.