Irish Olympic hopefuls get ready to enter last chance saloon in bid to reach Paris 2024

Boxers head for Bangkok ahead of world qualifier start on Friday

The Irish team travels to Bangkok on Tuesday, with the final world Olympic qualifier getting under way on Friday
The Irish team travels to Bangkok on Tuesday, with the final world Olympic qualifier getting under way on Friday

IRELAND’S Olympic hopefuls trade the golden sands of Hua Hin for the serious business in Bangkok on Tuesday, as the race for the coveted final spots at Paris 2024 hots up.

Tokyo bronze medallist Aidan Walsh will lead the charge in Thailand as he bids to get back to a second straight Olympics after being given the nod at 71kg.

He is joined by Sean Mari, Kelyn Cassidy, Martin McDonagh, Daina Moorehouse, Jennifer Lehane and Grainne Walsh, with all seven having fallen short at the second World qualifier in Italy back in March. For Mari, Cassidy and Lehane it is a third crack at qualification after competing at last summer’s European Games in Poland.

In five of the weights involving Irish boxers, four quota places are up for grabs (men’s 51kg and 92+kg, women’s 50kg, 54kg and 66kg), with five available at Walsh’s light-middleweight class, while just three go to Paris from Cassidy’s light-heavyweight division.

And then there’s Amy Broadhurst.

The Dundalk woman was also part of the training camp in Hua Hin, albeit with Team GB rather Ireland as she bids to fulfil her Olympic dream by claiming one of the three lightweight places on offer in Bangkok.

Kellie Harrington will be watching from afar as the action unfolds.

The Tokyo gold medallist is currently at a training camp alongside already-qualified team-mates Michaela Walsh, Aoife O’Rourke, Jude Gallagher, Dean Clancy and Jack Marley, but the possibility of Broadhurst going to Paris in the 60kg weight class opens up the possibility of a huge showdown between these rivals on the biggest stage.

Broadhurst competed for Ireland at the first Olympic qualifier – at last summer’s European Games – but fell to new GB team-mate Rosie Eccles in the 66kg quarter-final.

Grainne Walsh was then given the nod for the Italian job in March, with a hugely controversial judging decision preventing her from securing her place in Paris already.

The Offaly woman lost in her quota place decider to Poland’s Agneta Rygielska, with the scoring of the second round – when Walsh forced a standing eight count and dominated the majority, only for three judges to side with Rygielska – leaving ringside observers scratching their heads.

Despite that disappointment, Walsh got the nod for the final qualifier ahead of Broadhurst and 2022 world champion Lisa O’Rourke, and won’t want to leave anything to chance this time around.

Moorehouse and Cassidy also came out on the wrong side of extremely close calls in Busto Arsizio, and Harrington – a good friend and club-mate of Walsh at St Mary’s, Dublin – admits it is “a horrible feeling” when narrow decisions go the other way.

“It doesn’t make me worried about myself and decisions that I’m going to get. It doesn’t make me worry about decisions for anybody else, but it just hurts,” said the 34-year-old.

“I know how hard Grainne Walsh trains and what she’s been through injury-wise in the last number of years, as is the case with everyone on the team. I know how hard they train, so when they don’t get the decision they deserve, that’s just gut-wrenching.

“When anyone on the team loses, I feel like I’ve lost as well, it’s so horrible to see. It’s like it takes a little piece of you away all the time, it’s just a horrible feeling.”

Harrington has already spoken of her admiration for fellow Olympic medallist Aidan Walsh and, as Paris nears, the Dubliner hopes the current team of six will be bolstered in Bangkok.

“You build a bond with them, it’s not just about ‘I’m gonna go here on my own’ – these people are your team-mates, these people are the ones you’re getting into the ring with to spar with. They’re pushing you so you can get better, you’re pushing them so they can get better.

“You’re all trying to push each other because you want each other to do well. I really hope the seven of them can get across the line, it would be amazing.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen out there but I really do wish that they get across the line. Every single one of them is a credit to themselves first of all, and then their country.”

Qualifying so far out – Harrington sealed her spot in Poland last summer – means it has been a different build-up to this Olympics than Tokyo, when qualification was secured just two months before the Games got under way.

“There’s no doubt it has been difficult because a year is a long time. A lot happens, a lot changes, your body changes, stuff happens in life and focus shifts.

“Last time around it was so close when we qualified so the focus was no let-up and we were all in bubbles so it was easy. The last year has been hard but now that we are 11 weeks out, it is kind of easier to start regaining that focus.”

The draw for the final world qualifier takes place on Thursday, with boxing getting under way on Friday. The same as in Busto Arsizio, boxers will contest to quota – meaning the competition will end once the qualification bout is complete, so there will be no semi-finals or finals, and no medals handed out.