There's no getting away from the fact that the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was a disaster for Irish boxing. Medals were seen as a given, it was just a matter of what colour, and the team ended up with nothing.
Expectations are nowhere near the same on the men and women in Tokyo but I’m backing them to deliver.
Five years ago it was hard to believe what I was watching when Mick Conlan was robbed of a medal in the Quarter-Finals, Paddy Barnes was burned out at the weight, Katie Taylor fell short of a medal and Michael O’Reilly failed a drugs test and was banned for four years. After all the constant success that had gone before, it was a shock to the system that Ireland didn’t deliver in the international arena.
That team had so much experience compared to the seven-strong team in Tokyo. Just getting seven to the Games out of the European qualifying is an achievement in itself. Years ago, the Irish would have settled for that and hoped for the best but there’s no doubt that the High Performance Unit changed all that. Irish teams are expected to bring home medals, even if the pressure on these guys is not the same. None of them are household names like many in 2016 but they can change that on the biggest stage of all.
It says a lot about the standard of club coaching in Northern Ireland that four of the seven boxers are from this part of the island. While coaches Zaur Antia and John Conlan are doing a great job heading up the High Performance centre, you can’t overstate just how important the club coaches are. No boxer arrives at the elite system as a blank canvas.
Everybody needs a bit of the luck of the draw and if featherweight Kurt Walker is given a decent opening contest then I have every confidence he can kick on into the medal stages.
Kurt has proven that he is genuinely one of the best in the world at featherweight. He has won European gold and had some great battles with Team GB’s Peter McGrail, who will also have his sights on a medal. I had a chat with Kurt recently and I could see the confidence oozing out of him. He’s ready to go and having already beaten McGrail he would welcome another duel.
He’s an out and out amateur and has developed a lot over the past three years since winning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. Winning a European gold was a major step forward. He has the grit and skill to beat anyone on his day.
Another hope for a medal has to be flyweight Brendan Irvine. He’s the captain of the team and is the only one who has been there and done it on the Olympic stage having been in Rio.
knows what to expect, that feeling of stepping into the Olympic ring. He has great skills and that style can cause most guys problems. With a good draw, it will be interesting to see how far he can go.
The same could be said for welterweight Aidan Walsh, who is a dark horse for a medal. It’s a very tough division and I really think that whoever he faces, Aidan has to be quick out of the blocks so he can dictate with his natural counter-punching. His sister Michaela is ranked four at featherweight so that shows you she is in the mix for a medal in her weight category. It’s going to be special for the two of them boxing alongside side each other in Tokyo and a medal would make it all the sweeter.
One boxer who I expect to win gold is Dubliner Kellie Harrington. There’s a reason she is ranked No.1 seed at lightweight. For a number of years she was in the shadow of Taylor but I’m backing her to emulate the Bray woman’s 2012 success with gold in Tokyo.
As we have seen so often before, you just never know what is going to happen in the Olympic boxing ring — or what the judging is like. I just hope that this time we do not have the shadow of controversial judging hanging over the sport as we did in Rio.
It won’t be easy but I believe the Irish team will bring home at least two medals and who knows, maybe another one or two on top of that.
Irish Team: Brendan Irvine (Flyweight 52kg); Kurt Walker (Featherweight 57kg); Aidan Walsh (Welterweight 69kg); Emmet Brennan (Light Heavyweight 81kg); Michaela Walsh (Featherweight 57kg); Kellie Harrington (Lightweight 60kg); Aoife O’Rourke (Middleweight 75kg)
Unfortunately, I think my footballing days may be coming to an end after suffering a suspected broken foot on Wednesday night.
I was playing for Midland Amateur Boxing Club against Limestone United, who are a cross-community team from Tigers Bay, Newington and the New Lodge.
We managed to win 5-4 but I was shattered by the end of it. I started off in centre midfield and quickly ended up in the centre of defence.
The biggest problem for me was, five minutes in, getting clattered by Justin Taylor — the brother of Nottingham Forest player Dale.
Even though it was up like a pasty bap, I made it through the 90 minutes — some Premier League guys would have been gurning and going off for treatment.
Though, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’m up for 90 minutes of football any more.
It was great to meet up with the lads from Limestone because they’re doing a great cross-community job and it’s the kind of good news story that should be highlighted rather than all the usual bad publicity that surrounds the area.
Heavyweight Joe Joyce will put himself in line for a shot at Anthony Joshua if he can beat Carlos Takam this Saturday night.
Moving on from his win over Daniel Dubois, this is the ideal fight for big Joe who just doesn’t stop punching. He’s a machine of a heavyweight and without doubt the fittest heavyweight on the planet. He has that awkward style and is so tough and athletic which means he’s a danger to any of the big guns of the division.
Takam will be a good challenge, as he was for AJ, but I expect Joe to grind him down. That will put him fourth behind AJ, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder — and he’ll be the No.1 challenger for the WBO title, so there’s a lot on the line.
Was I pleased that Italy came out on top in the Euro 2020 Final? You bet!
Of course I wanted the Italians to win, but I also managed to cash in after a 10-1 bet on Giorgio Chiellini being booked in normal time and Italy winning. As soon as I saw Chiellini get booked for trying to strangle Bukayo Saka, I knew it was Italy’s night.
It was a dramatic Final and I have a lot of respect for how Gareth Southgate leads the England team, who seem a lot more grounded than teams of the past. It’s such a shame that their fans let them down so badly whether it’s booing national anthems, breaking into Wembley without tickets or going on the rampage in London.
The racist abuse of the England players was a disgrace as well and you have to wonder if the UK deserves to host a World Cup after last week’s scenes.