Boxing has always been one of Ireland’s best opportunities for success at the Olympics. Of the 31 medals that Ireland has won at the Olympics, 16 of them have come from boxing. Ireland has won way more Olympic medals in boxing than any other sport. While boxing is the focal point of the Irish team at most Olympic Games, they were uncharacteristically unsuccessful in their pursuit of medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. However, there was a plethora of Talent in the Irish team, who have all gone on to varying levels of success since then. Some have had success at a professional level while others have continued to campaign at amateur. Ireland had 8 boxers compete at the 2016 Olympics; in this piece the Circular looks at how the team has fared since Rio.
Firstly, Michael Conlan was easily the biggest story from the Irish camp in Rio when he voiced his frustrations against the AIBA in a post-fight interview that went viral. Conlan pulled no punches when he ranted on the injustice surrounding his controversial loss to Vladamir Nikitin in the quarterfinals. This rant along with Conlan’s gold medal at the world amateur championships helped earn him a contract with legendary promoter Bob Arum at Top Rank. Since then, Conlan has gone on to win his first 4 fights, all by knockout. Conlan made his pro debut against Tim Ibarra on Saint Patrick’s Day this year at Madison Square Garden. Conlan is widely considered one of boxing’s top prospects. Below you can see Conlan’s emotional rant after his controversial loss.
Paddy Barnes has competed at the last three Olympics, earning bronze medals in Beijing and London. However, he was unable to replicate his success in Rio. He has since then decided to turn professional and like Conlan, he is undefeated with 4 wins. Barnes has already won his first championship, beating Silviu Olteanu earlier this year to win the WBO European title. Barnes is already 30 years old and will have a smaller time frame to be successful in the pros. Although him having a title just 4 fight into his career is a promising sign. Barnes explained his decision to turn pro in the video below.
Katie Taylor was the only member of team Ireland to already have won Olympic gold. Taylor was also the only female boxer on the team. Taylor is the first member of team Ireland to earn a world title shot, which she will fight for on the 28th of October (see previous article for more details on the title fight). Taylor will fight at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff against Anahi Sanchez for the WBA female lightweight title. This will be Taylor’s 7th pro fight and a victory would only help solidify her as one of Ireland’s greatest athletes ever.
It unfortunately hasn’t been all positive for the Irish team since Rio 2016. Michael O’Reilly was due to fight for Ireland last year but sent home on the eve of the games when it was revealed that he had failed a drugs test before leaving this country for the event. Things have gone from bad to worse for O’Reilly as he recently has been given a five-month prison sentence after admitting causing criminal damage to a caravan following an engagement party last year. O’Reilly will be hopeful to recapture his former success in boxing upon release, given his excellent amateur background.
The only other member of the team to turn professional since the Olympics is David Oliver Joyce who is 4-0. Joyce most recently fought on the under-card of Ryan Burnett’s world title fight in Northern Ireland. Earlier this year, 21 year old Brendan Irvine won a bronze medal at the European championships at flyweight. Light heavyweight Joe Ward won his third European gold medal at the same tournament. Steven Donnelly competed at the tournament at welterweight this past Summer, but was unfortunately beaten in the round of 32.
While the Irish team where unable to capture a single medal at Rio 2016, it’s clear that there is a great deal of talent and potential amongst this crop of Irish boxers. There are now multiple world champion level prospects in both professional and amateur boxing that could help propel the sport back into mainstream Irish pop-culture.