Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine, Mick Conlan, Davey Oliver Joyce, Katie Taylor, Steven Donnelly, Michael O’Reilly, and Joe Ward form a record-sized Irish team since the introduction of qualification – and potentially our best team ever.
However there are a number of other Irish boxers who will be watching the Games from their sofas. These fighters are better than many of the field in Brazil but, through a mixture of dubious decisions, their Irish team-mates, and pure bad luck, they will not get to participate at sport’s biggest global event.
All have represented their country with distinction, and now many are faced with tough decisions regarding their boxing future – indeed Sean McGlichey, Chris Blaney, and Connor Coyle have already taken the plunge into the pros.
Below we take a look at just some of the boxers with choices to make.
The Limerick banger roared onto the scene in 2015, winning the Elite flyweight crown and performing well at European Games. Unfortunately for him, Casey outgrew the flyweight division, yet is too small for a quality bantamweight division that looks like it will be dominated by the phenomenal talents of Kurt Walker and James McGivern. We would suggest that the St Francis’s boxer follows his older brother Willie’s footsteps and join the pro game – he certainly has the punch power and style for it.
Definitely an Olympic-class athlete, Walker was unlucky to have World number one Mick Conlan ahead of him in the bantamweight pecking order. The Ulsterman will look to assert himself as Ireland’s number one bantamweight at next year’s Seniors, although will have to fend off the advances of youngster James McGivern. 21 year old Walker has Tokyo 2020 on his mind and we think that this is the best move for the Canal BC fighter.
Just about to turn 24, the Belfast man faces one of the tougher decisions. As he outlined here, he needs money for his future and Tokyo may be too far away. Another problem he admits that he faces is that he may not have the sort of style that promoters are looking for. What McComb does have however is massive support and if he were to turn over to the pros he would bring a huge and lucrative following to his fights. He mightn’t be top of Eddie Hearn’s wishlist but he could certainly become an oldschool Belfast legend.
The well-supported Dubliner ran Sean McComb extremely close in this year’s Senior semi-final and the 22 year old could perhaps be swayed to join the growing promotional stable of his fellow Tallaght man Frank Stacey. Dublin is always in need of new stars coming through and Bates has the potential to be one of them.
Dropped a dubious decision in the European Olympic qualifier and broke his hand in the World Olympic qualifier, the Wexford man is unlucky not to be in Brazil. Certainly capable of succeeding in the pro ranks, the European bronze medalist however is only 22 and should stick around for Tokyo where he would be a medal hope – and one of Team Ireland’s leaders
Walsh’s big rival is 26 and Tokyo is most likely a bridge too far. Unlucky to be drawn against the tournament winner in the first round of his qualifier in Vargas. Sting-Ray possess a textbook pro style – which perhaps worked to his detriment at the qualifier in Venezuela – and a huge following. The Mayo man would be a great addition to the pro ranks, although he hasn’t shown any indication of wanting to take this route.
29 year old Nolan proved at the European Championships that he can mix it with the top welterweights. Here Nolan defeated Radzhab Butaev, a man who looks destined for pro glory with Lou DiBella. It would be great to see the Garda stay in Irish boxing and he would make a great panelist for RTÉ. If it were to appeal to him, a brief trip into the pro game a-la Eric Donovan could be fruitful, especially considering he comes from the boxing-mad county of Wexford.
Defeated at the semi-final stage of the Seniors this year, the Belfast puncher is one youngster who might consider making an early switch to the pro ranks. The Holy Trinity boxer has already caught the eye of Ricky Hatton, and his bull-strong big-punching style is one suited to the professional ranks. Only 19, it could be beneficial to the popular Hynes to rack up pro experience and ride the crest of the Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan post-Olympic wave.
The Kilkenny man’s dream of a second Olympics was sadly extinguished last month, and it looks as though the ten-time Senior finalist’s long and decorated career in the vested game has come to an end. O’Neill is an educated man and is carving a name out for himself as a pundit. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the RTÉ panel next month. Another who could take a Donovan-esqe stab at the pro game, O’Neill would make a good light heavyweight, although the Irish scene at the weight is decidedly sparse.
The Tipp big man, so long in Con Sheehan’s shadow, came agonisingly close to qualifying for Rio. Unlikely to stick around in the ‘amateurs,’ the Clonmel giant would be well advised to take a punt and join the burgeoning Irish heavyweight scene where there are potential clashes with former foes such as Niall Kennedy and Sean Turner waiting for him.
The Young Guns
There are many red-hot prospects who perhaps have an easier decision and have their eyes firmly focused on Tokyo 2020. These include Regan Buckley, Willie Donoghue, Stevie McKenna, Tiernan Bradley, Gary Cully, Gary McKenna, James Cleary, Martin Stokes, Conor Wallace, John Joyce, and Thomas Carty, as well as the countless future stars currently at Youth and Junior level.