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Eric Donovan gives the lowdown on Ireland's boxing hopefuls for Tokyo

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

20:09 8 Jun 2021

Eric Donovan joined Off The Ball to discuss Ireland's Olympic boxing hopes after a weekend where hard work and talent coalesced for some of the country's brightest hopes.

Ireland have had a glittering weekend in Paris with seven boxers qualified for Tokyo: Aidan and Michaela Walsh become the first Irish boxing siblings to qualify, alongside Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, Emmet Brennan, Kellie Harrington and Aoife O'Rourke.

Irish boxing

Donovan believes that the outcomes show the fertile state of the sport in Ireland and that now is the time for some direction and unity from organisations.

"The one good thing about Irish boxing is that we are a very proud boxing nation with a good heritage. At the grass roots level, there is a great passion for it.

"There is always a huge uptake, particularly in an Olympic year. There is a conveyor belt of talent there that just needs a system in place. When Billy [Walsh] left that time, people were worried about whether we would be able to reach those heights again.

"We need a unity and to work together because there has been too much tension between the High Performance, the IABA, Sport Ireland and all of that. There is too much disharmony; that is no good.

"When we come together and work as a unit, the talent is there. It is no surprise that we are the number one Olympic sport in this country."

Donovan is tipping the female representatives as having a touch better chance at medalling than the male team, testament to some real talent in the ranks.

Kellie Harrington

None more so than Kellie Harrington, who overcame Caroline Dubois in Paris to win gold at the European qualifiers.

"There are a lot of strong fighters in this category, but the fact that Kellie got the number one seed is crucial. She will avoid these fighters until at least the medal stages.

"Kellie is a huge candidate for a medal in these Olympic games. Probably our best chance.

"It is all boils down to coming into form at the right time. Kellie has just won this tournament and has beaten some top-class opposition."

Aidan and Michaela Walsh

Arguably the story of the qualifiers has been the brother and sister story of Aidan and Michaela Walsh, who both qualified.

Donovan believes that both are steely and will have medals in their sights.

"Two or three years ago, [Aidan] would have been the number three select from Ireland, there were two or three lads ahead of him; the likes of Paddy Donovan or Kieran Molloy. But he kept grafting away and believing in himself.

"He is developing and something is after changing in him. When he gets ahead of you or gets a lead on you, he's a very hard guy to beat."

Michaela has been a positive influence.

"The confidence with which Michaela Walsh speaks, there is not an arrogance there but a sheer conviction in her. She has been around a long time, she boxed Nicola Adams in 2014.

"Michaela has been mixing it with the best, she talks with conviction and she's a true champion. All of that has rubbed off on her brother.

"I think they are going to have a great Olympic games."

Emmet Brennan: boxing dreamer

Donovan reserved special praise for Emmet Brennan.

"Emmet Brennan's story is the real fairytale in all of this. He comes from inner-city Dublin and has been grafting all his life in the amateur game. He is a really exemplary athlete. He would be the kind of example you would use as someone to say you never give up, to never give up on your dreams.

"He won the Elite Championships in 2017 for the first time and then injured his hand in 2018; he won the Elites again in 2019 but stepped up again into light-heavyeights when Joe Ward turned professional.

"In 2019, he took out a Credit Union loan for himself to fund himself, to fund his training plan and training camps. Now, that is what you call taking a punt on yourself. That is what you call backing yourself.

"The stress of trying to qualify for the Olympics is enough without having the financial pressures on top of that. I love that story. He decided 'I'm not just doing this to do it, I'm going all-in."

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