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6 Talking Points Ahead of the Final Olympic Qualifier

Seven Team Ireland boxers are in Thailand trying to secure passage to Paris.

Over the next week or so Boxers Daina Moorehouse (50kg), Jennifer Lehane (54kg), Grainne Walsh (66kg) Sean Mari (51kg), Aidan Walsh (71kg), Kelyn Cassidy (80kg), and Martin McDonagh (92+kg) will vie to book their tickets to the 2024 Olympic.

Those seven will look to join reigning Olympic lightweight champ, Kellie Harrington, double Olympians Michaela Walsh and Aoife O’Rourke, as well as Jude Gallagher, Dean Clancy and heavyweight, Jack Marley as Olympic-qualified boxers.

We here at run through some talking points ahead of the crucial tournament.

Last Chance Saloon
The seven have walked through the swinging doors of the Last Chance Saloon. It’s a case of now or never for the entire team and Paris will return to being a potential romantic weekend break for those who suffer defeat.

It’s always interesting to see how the pressure that brings affects fighters, the Irish, and their contemporaries.

That will again be the case for this tournament – in fact, perhaps even more so considering the ‘lose and the dream is over for good’ element will be accentuated by the fact boxing may not be part of the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

It also makes every fight massive and tense watch for the boxing family.

Wild West
Fittingly there is more of a Wild West element to the Last Chance Saloon tournament than any other.

More than in any other elite-level competition, boxers don’t know what to expect. The draw could throw up anything.

The IOC have confirmed that the number of entrants has increased on the 602 that attempted to qualify via the first qualifier in Italy earlier this year.

Considering there has been one global and five continental qualifying tournaments already, it would be safe to assume the majority of the well-known top-end talents have booked their place on the plane, suggesting qualification should be easier.

However, it would be unwise to approach this tournament with that mindset. Within the increased number there will be some bolters, future Olympic medalists, those who were injured previously or needed a few more months to develop, and plenty of ‘never heard of before’ banana peels.

Luck of the Draw
Like in all boxing tournaments, the draw is key although possibly more so in the Olympic qualifiers. With so many entrants it’s quite possible to get a run of perceived weaker nations and thus increase your chances of reaching the later stages. Similarly, you could get a world medallistin your opening bout and your hopes of progressing could be snuffed out.

The draw takes place Thursday. Cross your fingers.

So Close No Cigar
Depending on which side of the glass half-empty or glass half-full divide you fall on, the fact some of the boxers have come as close as humanly possible to qualifying without making it over the line will evoke different emotions.

For all intents and purposes. Grainne Walsh won her Olympic Qualifier quarter-final in Italy in March yet it’s her opponent that will be going to Paris.

The Tullamore boxer came within a hair’s breadth of realising her Olympic dream when she fought old foe Aneta Rygielska in Busto Arsizio. The St Mary’s Tallaght fighter finished the three-round fight ahead on two of the judge’s scorecards and level on the remaining three. Such a score suggests the back-to-back Elite Champion finished the clash with more points than the fighter she fought three times previous, and thus should have progressed to the Paris 2024 Olympics. However, that is not what transpired. The rule in the case of three or more drawn cards advises that the judges who scored the bouts a draw should pick a winner. In this case, the three who had drawn cards leaned the way of Rygielska and she advanced at Walsh’s expense.

Agonisingly close doesn’t do justice to how close Kelyn Cassidy was to becoming an Olympian.

The Déise dancer has twice fallen at the final hurdle having lead going into the final round of his qualification bouts against two of the world’s best. At the European Games in Poland, a final-round point deduction saw Cassidy fall to the fearsome Ukrainian buzzsaw Oleksandr Khyzniak while he was perhaps just a few punches away from edging Kazakh world champ Nurbek Oralbay in Italy.

Bonus Territory?
Considering the quality of the six boxers qualified, there could be sense of ‘anything achieved in Thailand is a bonus’ – although that isn’t quite the case. There is a real sense that there is room for more Irish fighters on the plane and that more could be added before it takes off.

So with a high number of 2024 Olympians already, there is hope Ireland could break records and qualify nine boxers for the latest Olympiad.

Eight was the target set by the IABA and the High Performance at the start of the Olympic cycle and that now looks very achievable.

The Elephant in the Room
In a country where the elephant is revered, there is a massive elephant in the room element to the tournament for the High Performance.

One of Louth’s greatest sportspeople, Amy Broadhurst will try qualify for Paris for Great Britain.

The 27-year-old revealed she was considering all options to keep her Olympic dream alive after it became clear she wouldn’t be selected at 66kg for Team Ireland back in March.

Team GB was one of those options – and after Rob McCracken and co sought and got clearance – was the route she chose. Now ‘Baby Canelo’ has been selected ahead of Shona Whitwell and Gemma Richardson as Team GB’s 60kg Olympic hopeful.

It means there will be more interest in how a Team GB fighter fares on these shores than at any other time in recent history.


Integral part of the Irish boxing community for over 13 years