Sunday 17 December 2017

Ryan believes Rio boxing team can rewrite history books

Team Ireland boxers, from left, Paddy Barnes, David Oliver Joyce, Michael Conlan, Michael O’Reilly, Joe Ward, Stephen Donnelly and Brendan Irvine prior to their departure for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran
Team Ireland boxers, from left, Paddy Barnes, David Oliver Joyce, Michael Conlan, Michael O’Reilly, Joe Ward, Stephen Donnelly and Brendan Irvine prior to their departure for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran

Bernard O'Neill

Irish boxing's top elected official believes the team which departed for the Rio Olympics last week could set a new record. "I think four medals is a realistic target at these Olympics," said Pat Ryan, president of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association. "However, this team are quite capable of rewriting the history books."

And Ryan believes that target can be improved on: "I don't think the Irish sporting public have fully grasped the immense achievements of our current boxing Olympians," he said.

The progress of 2016 Olympians Michael O'Reilly and Joe Ward is cited by Ryan is an example of what he describes as "cradle to Rio" development. The duo claimed gold and silver at the 2007 European Schoolboy Championships in Portsmouth.

Nine years later, O'Reilly is No 2 in the International Boxing Association World Elite rankings at middleweight and Ward is No 3 at light-heavyweight. Any class of a medal in Rio could lift them to No 1 alongside current lightweight and bantamweight World No 1s Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan.

Moreover, O'Reilly is the reigning European Games champion and a World Elite bronze medallist, while Ward is a two-time European Elite champion and AIBA World Elite silver and bronze medallist.

The pair flew out to Rio last Tuesday with Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine, Michael Conlan, David Oliver Joyce and Steven Donnelly for Ireland's final training camp. The male boxing competition begins on August 6.

Defending Olympic lightweight champion Taylor joins the squad in the Olympic village on August 2 and female boxing begins on August 12.

Laois native Ryan, head coach with the Portlaoise BC for the past 36 years, is immensely proud that O'Reilly is the first Olympian at the club which was opened in 1930 by Garda Billy Blackwell - who coached the Laois football team to an All-Ireland final in 1936 - behind the Garda station in Portlaoise.

"It still stands to this day, but we have moved to our own facility and centre of excellence which we purchased in 2014," added Ryan, an ex-IABA High Performance coach.

"I was in Portsmouth in 2007 when Michael and Joe won medals, a wonderful occasion. The time-frame to produce an open class senior elite boxer is 10 years. This is Michael's tenth year.

"We all reflect back with pride on our great teams, but none of those teams have the profile of our current squad. Michael Conlan's development, in this regard, has been phenomenal. Last year in Qatar he delivered the only medal Irish boxing didn't have, World Men's Elite gold.

"Katie Taylor is an Olympic and World champion. Paddy Barnes is a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic medallist and David Oliver Joyce, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly are exceptional boxers.

"The influence of parents, clubs and club coaches in this success story has been immense and as a result of their influence we are producing champions in all age categories at every major international tournament.

"This would not be possible without the current structures within the IABA and the pathways developed by IABA coaches, staff and volunteers.

"It's also my ambition to engage further with all primary and second-level schools to promote the sport in a non-invasive manner (not full contact) and implement the training techniques to develop the components of fitness and tackle obesity.

"I envisage a lot of very progressive reforms within the IABA in the coming years that will help us develop our product," continued Ryan, who was elected IABA president in a 156-vote landslide at Congress in Clare last year.

"We have many stakeholders, sponsors and supporters who play an integral part in our success. One of these is Sport Ireland. They have provided a dedicated training facility for boxing at the Institute of Sport. Sport Northern Ireland also provides continuing support and I would like to thank both organisations and the IABA.

"This week we have a team at the European Schoolboy Championships in Croatia. In 2007, Michael and Joe, to use two of our boxers as an example of our pathway to success, won gold and silver at this level. Today they are in Rio preparing for their Olympic debuts.

"Supporting our world-class athletes and helping our young boxers realise their potential is, and always has been, the primary objective of the Association."

49kg P Barnes (Holy Family)

52kg B Irvine (St Paul's)

56kg M Conlan (Clonard)

60kg K Taylor (Bray)

60kg D Joyce (St Michael's Athy & AIBA Pro Boxing)

69kg S Donnelly (All Saints)

75kg M O'Reilly (Portlaoise)

81kg J Ward (Moate & AIBA Pro Boxing)

Team manager: J Hennigan

Coaches: Z Antia, E Bolger, J Conlan

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