John McNally won Ireland’s first Olympic boxing medal 70 years ago today

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Ireland’s winning of a first ever Olympic boxing medal.

On this day, at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, John McNally carved his name in the annals of Irish Boxing history and laid the foundation for boxing heroes to follow.

The Belfast man claimed the bantamweight silver medal on August 2nd, 1952, by split decision in his final against home boxer, Pentti Hamalainen of Finland. His route to the final included unanimous decision wins over a Filipino boxer, an Italian boxer and a South Korean boxer.

Of his final, John said ‘It was the last day of the Games and the host nation had not yet won a gold medal, so there was a lot of weight on the Finn’s shoulders to deliver. It came down to the three judges and the British judge gave it to me, while the American and the Austrian gave it to Hamalainen. I was devastated and in floods of tears because I was convinced that I had won the gold medal,’

In 1953, McNally took bronze at the European championships and won the Golden Gloves Championships representing Europe against the US.

He was inducted into the IABA Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008 and passed away, aged 89, on April 4th of this year.

 The IABA’s Chief Executive, Fergal Carruth, says “A standout, naturally gifted boxer, John paved the way for all of Irish boxing’s Olympic success, winning our first ever medal (silver) in 1952. IABA hall of fame inductee John McNally was the first of a very select group of 18 Irish Olympic boxing medallists when he was beaten by the narrowest of margins by the home country Finnish fighter in the gold medal contest in Helsinki. His success as a boxer will be forever remembered by all who love boxing in Ireland.”

McNally’s historic medal was to herald 70 years of achievement by Irish boxers at successive Olympiads, and boxing remains Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport. Ireland has won 35 medals, in all disciplines, of which 18 are boxing medals. 9 of Ireland’s boxing Olympic medals have been won in a 14 year period since the 2008 games in Beijing.

Courtesy of the IABA

Fred Tiedt: Silver, men’s welterweight, 1956, Melbourne

Tony Byrne: Bronze, men’s lightweight, 1956, Melbourne

John Caldwell: Bronze, men’s flyweight, 1956, Melbourne

Freddie Gilroy: Bronze, men’s bantamweight, 1956, Melbourne

Jim McCourt: Bronze, men’s lightweight, 1964, Tokyo

Hugh Russell: Bronze, men’s flyweight, 1980, Moscow

Michael Carruth: Gold, men’s welterweight, 1992, Barcelona

Olympic Gold medallist, Michael Carruth

Wayne McCullough: Silver, men’s bantamweight, 1992, Barcelona

Kenny Egan: Silver, men’s light heavyweight, 2008, Beijing

Darren Sutherland: Bronze, men’s middleweight, 2008, Beijing

Paddy Barnes: Bronze, men’s light flyweight, 2008, Beijing; Bronze, men’s light flyweight, 2012, London

Double Olympic bronze medallist, Paddy Barnes

Katie Taylor: Gold, women’s lightweight, 2012, London

John Joe Nevin: Silver, men’s bantamweight, 2012, London

Michael Conlan: Bronze, men’s flyweight, 2012, London

Aidan Walsh: Bronze, men’s middleweight, 2021, Tokyo

Kellie Harrington: Gold, women’s lightweight, 2021, Tokyo

Kellie Harrington on winning her Olympic Gold medal
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Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com