Late tonight a nine-strong team of Irish boxers will fly out to Portugal for the Odivelas Box Cup in Lisbon.
The panel is a Munster select and will feature at the tournament alongside boxers from over 30 other nations.
With the tournament’s placing in December, there is a sense of transition for many of the fighters, all at different stages of their careers, with some looking to round off 2016 with a win, while others are looking to get an early start to what they hope will be a successful 2016.
Irish-Boxing.com caught up with some of the talented team before they flew out.
Kelyn Cassidy – Middleweight
The awkwardly talented Déise fighter suffered heartbreak mere weeks ago, losing in the final of the Irish Senior (Intermediate) Championships to Tony McGlynn. The St Saviours boxer lost in a razor-close decider, but refused to let the defeat deter him and pushed to get back in the ring as soon as possible.
The 19 year old believes he has learnt from the experience and recalled how “I was gutted not wining the final, I thought I won. I was up there [Dublin] for four weeks. It was tough, getting the worst side of the draw, having to box in the last 32 all the way to the final. Personally though I’ve gained a lot of experience, I was boxing as a novice earlier this year.”
“I’ve held my head him and just got on with it. Just got myself another victory yesterday representing Waterford Institute of Technology and I know I will be bringing home a gold medal alongside others on the team.”
‘Too Smooth’ Cassidy is already raring to go for 2017 and outlined that “the plan is to enter the under 22s, but I won’t be entering the Elites as I’m not prepared for them yet, I’m going to give myself time to prepare for them in 2018.”
Rhys Moran – Middleweight
One of Cassidy’s best friends and a fellow middleweight, Moran is hoping to end 2016 well. An elite-level talent, the Waterford teenager won the first Irish under 18 Championships this year and fought at the European Youth Championships. Injury suffered in Russia would however wreak havoc for Moran and he explained how “I hurt my hand out there which meant I could not enter the second under 18 qualifiers for the Worlds [won by eventual bronze medalist Michael Nevin.”
“I had to get a small procedure on my wrist which left me out of the ring and boxing training for 5 months.”
A late addition to the squad, Moran is keen to get some rounds under his belt as he looks to win more National titles next year. He commented on how “I’m looking forward to this trip, it was last minute but I’ve been working really hard and feel really sharp and confident. I’m also getting fitter each day and I’ve been working a lot on my technical work lately.”
“I’m hungry at the minute and I plan to bring back a medal from this tournament in Portugal. It’s a great stepping stone for the Nationals and a great way to end an eventful year as it will probably be last fight of 2016.”
“My plan for 2017 then is the under 22 championships and I’m considering to enter the elites – but no rush, I’m still young, my main focus is bringing the under 22 Irish title back to Waterford.”
Barry Barnes – Light Heavyweight
A team mate of Moran at St Paul’s, Barnes is continuing his road to recovery following a prolonged period of injury. Irish Intermediate champion in 2014, a nasty knee injury has kept the big man out since then up until this Summer. A frustrating time for him, he remembers how “after the intermediates I was hoping for big things but the injury set me back.”
Now 29, Barnes has began a good run of form which he will look to continue in Lisbon before the big one in February. He outlined how “I’ve a straight run of wins since I’ve started back so it’s given me the confidence to keep progressing as far as I can get. I’m hoping to do well in the Elites as well as everything else in the next year.”
“I’m just taking every opportunity that comes my way for now as it’s my passion to box so I want to make the most of it while I still can”
Kenny Okungbowa – Heavyweight
It has been a potentially break-out year for Athlone’s Okungbowa, who will be a honourary Munsterman for a few days this week. The Midlander claimed top prize in the Haringey and Celtic Box Cup tournaments before winning a bronze medal, becoming the first Irishman and second Irish boxer ever, at the World University Championships in Thailand.
The unassuming big man admits that “it’s been a good year for my career so far, I put the work in and it produced a good result, and I must give thanks to my coach Rory Parks and all involved.”
Quietly confident, Okungbowa goes to Portugal with gold on his mind before turning his attention to even bigger prizes in the new year. He described how “I’m looking forward going to Portugal and winning the tournament. I’m going with a great team and it will be exciting. I would like to thank Gerry O’Mahony and Killian Walsh for this opportunity. I then aim to claim the 91kg Senior Elite title, in February. I’m focused on me and no one else.”
The full squad heading to Portugal is:
64kg Thomas Boyd (Thurles BC)
69kg Stephen Shasby (Dungarvan BC)
75kg Rhys Moran (St Pauls Waterford)
75kg Kelyn Cassidy (St Saviours Waterford)
81kg Ciara Mulcahy (Dungarvan B.C)
81kg Barry Barnes (St Pauls Waterford)
81kg Nicky Casey (Middleton BC)
91kg Kenny Okungbowa (Athlone)
91kg Paddy Clavin (Thurles BC)
Team Manager – Gerry O’Mahony
Coaches – Killian Walsh, James Keoghan and Timothy Keegan
R&Js – Francis Keeling and Monica Byrne