| 11.2°C Belfast

Carl Frampton

Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes are my top Irish male amateur boxers from past 30 years

Carl Frampton


Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan ahead of 2016 Rio Olympics

Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan ahead of 2016 Rio Olympics

�INPHO/James Crombie

Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan ahead of 2016 Rio Olympics

Over the last 30 years Irish amateur boxing has had some amazing moments, indeed some of the best ever in the history of the sport on this island.

I've been fortunate to be part of the High Performance set-up in Dublin which has transformed the success Irish boxers have had on the international stage over the past 15 years. It has been tricky, harder than listing my top 10 Irish professionals, but here goes for my top 10 Irish male amateur boxers for the past 30 years…

1. Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes

The top two on my list were the easiest to pick but the order was not and I have to admit that over the past seven days my head has been melted by the lobbying of both Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan as I worked out who should be top of the pile.

When it came down to it, I couldn't separate them because for different reasons they deserve to be the No.1.

Five years ago Mick made history when winning gold at the World Championships, becoming the first Irish boxer to achieve such a feat. He also won Commonwealth Games gold in 2014 and was European champion as well, while in 2012 he brought home an Olympic bronze medal.

Only for a very poor decision at the Rio Olympics four years ago he would have had another medal and who knows, maybe even gold. Mick always had a really classy style and was one of the most skilled amateurs I've seen - able to comfortably switch from orthodox to southpaw.

In what was a golden era for Irish amateur boxing, Mick and Paddy shone the brightest. Paddy's record of achievements as an amateur is just incredible. Back-to-back Olympic bronze medals, losing on both occasions to the gold medal winner, he also won European gold and silver as well as back-to-back Commonwealth Games gold medals in 2010 and 2014. It's hard enough winning Irish senior titles but to leave as a three-time Olympian with such a great medal haul just shows how long he was at the pinnacle of the sport. It's also worth pointing out that because of his longevity he had to adapt to different scoring methods that were brought into the sport - some which suited the boxer and others that suited the aggressive fighter. Paddy was able to handle that and achieve greatness - all after losing his first 10 bouts.

3. Michael Carruth

Michael Carruth will always be remembered as the man who became the first Irish boxer to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

Welterweight Carruth also won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 1989. He was trained by his father Austin, one of the nicest guys in Irish amateur boxing and a highly respected coach. It didn't work out for Carruth as a pro the way he would have wanted but that can often be the case because they are two different sports and it's not always easy to make the transition.

In a tough Final in Barcelona, Carruth got the edge over the world champion Juan Hernández Sierra, who also took silver in Atlanta four years later.

4. Kenny Egan

KENNY (below) won an incredible 10 Irish titles, seven coming at light-heavyweight.

His finest hour came at the Beijing Olympics when he went all the way to the light-heavy Final, which most people thought he won. But it was always going to be tough trying to beat a Chinese boxer in China and he lost 11-7 to Zhang Xiaoping. He also won two European bronze medals and three EU golds in a fantastic career. Kenny was one of the established guys when I got onto the High Performance team. As a young lad you don't know what to expect and Kenny was very good to me and the other younger guys, helping us make our way.

5. Joe Ward

JOE Ward left the amateur ranks to turn professional after bagging three European gold medals. That is an insane achievement.

I know that most people will usually look at Olympic success when judging how well an amateur boxer has done but, believe me, winning European gold is often harder than winning an Olympic medal simply because of the level of opposition you have to continually face throughout the tournament. Once the Soviet Union broke up, winning medals was a whole new ball game. Ward also won two silvers and a bronze at the World Championships as well as World Youth and World junior gold. He was also the man who ended the great reign of Kenny Egan as Irish senior champion. He was a fantastic talent.

6. John Joe Nevin

JOHN Joe was perfectly suited to the amateur ranks. He went to the 2012 London Olympics and came back with a silver medal.

I was at the Final when he lost to Luke Campbell in a very close bout. He was also a European amateur champion and won two bronze medals at the World Championships.

He was such a slick mover and whenever we sparred he always seemed to get the better of me. I was denied the chance to try and qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008 and could have had the opportunity of working towards a shot at London.

John Joe was still a junior but being talked about as a big talent and if I'm honest I don't think I would have stopped him going to London. I always found him too slippery. Thankfully, I turned pro and the rest is history!

7. Wayne McCullough

Wayne won Commonwealth Games flyweight gold in 1990 and then two years later in Barcelona he went all the way to the bantamweight Final and picked up silver, losing to the great Cuban Joel Casamayor.

In that Final Wayne showed all the heart and toughness that became his trademark as he battled through with a broken cheekbone he picked up in his Semi-Final.

His non-stop punching was very well suited to the amateur ranks and he picked up some brilliant wins, such as a victory over the late Arturo Gatti.

A two-time Olympian, having boxed at the Seoul Games in 1988, he went on to have a great professional career as well, winning the WBC World bantamweight title.

8. Jason Quigley

Donegal man Jason Quigley was a brilliant amateur. A European Youth gold medallist, he went on to win senior European gold and a silver medal at the World Championships before turning professional in the States. In that World Final he lost to a Kazakh, which was Quigley's first loss in an 18-month run of 33 fights. He also enjoyed a win over Olympic bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo at a multi-nations event.

9. Andy Lee

LIMERICK'S Andy Lee was a quality fighter who for some time was the flag bearer for Irish amateur boxing in a period when medals were a lot harder to come by for the men in the green vest.

A European bronze medallist, he went on to represent Ireland at the 2004 Olympics. After winning his first bout, he drew with Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam of Cameroon, losing controversially on a countback of scoring punches.

For a while he kept the late Darren Sutherland in the shade as Andy ruled the Irish middleweights - winning his first national title at 17. Before that Final he almost pulled out because of a back spasm and it was Monkstown coach Paul Johnston who massaged the knot out of his back and he went ahead and defeated Dungiven's Eamonn O'Kane.

10. Stephen Kirk

BELFAST man Stephen Kirk was a real quality fighter who could really bang.

You don't often see knockdowns or stoppages in amateur boxing but Kirky could do real damage. His stoppage of Mark Delaney in the 1993 Ulster senior light-heavyweight Final is still talked about.

Kirky became an Irish amateur great when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships in Budapest in 1997. At that time he was only the fourth Irish boxer to win a World medal.

He also won gold at the Commonwealth Championships and was favourite for Commonwealth Games gold when he had to retire due to an issue with a brain scan.

I've no doubt he could have been a brilliant professional with the power he had.

◊ Honourable mentions must go to European gold medallist Paul Griffin, who just missed out on the top 10, World and European bronze medallist Damaen Kelly, who made the Quarter-Finals of the 1996 Olympics along with fellow Holy Trinity boxer Brian Magee - a European silver medallist - Olympic bronze medallist Darren Sutherland, European gold medallist Kurt Walker and World bronze medallist James Moore.

◊ In putting together last week's list of the top Irish male professional boxers I inadvertently left out Ballymena's Eamonn Loughran, who defended his WBO welterweight title six times.

Belfast Telegraph