Dean Walsh enjoys perfect preparation

Dean Walsh got a sneak preview of what he is likely to come up against at next month’s European Olympic qualifiers as Team Ireland were put through their paces at a test event against Lithuania yesterday at the National Stadium.
Dean Walsh enjoys perfect preparation

Olympians Paddy Barnes, Katie Taylor, and Steven Donnelly were among a 12-strong squad to participate in the test bouts, with six of the seven Irish boxers involved up against Lithuanian opposition while the remaining half of the home team were paired against each other in preparation for next month’s Rio 2016 qualifiers in Turkey.

Ballymena welterweight Donnelly, who has already qualified for the Olympics, had arguably the toughest opponent in European champion Eimantas Stanionis, but Wexford light-welter Walsh also faced a tough scrap against European bronze medallist Evaldas Petrauskas.

Although yesterday’s bouts were not scored due to the fact that they were not official international contests, Irish 64kg champion Walsh insisted it was ideal preparation for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers as Petrauskas is a likely opponent in Turkey in the battle for a place in Rio.

“The Lithuanians are just a tough country, they just want to fight,” said 21-year-old Walsh.

“It’s a good camp because we’re kind of used to [sparring with] Russians and Cubans… this was a change of style and they were all about pressuring you. Having these boys in your face for three rounds was a change and that’s what we needed.

“He [Petrauskas] is in my weight for the European qualifiers, and I was trying new things,” continued Walsh, nephew of former Ireland coach Billy.

“I have a lot of different things to patch up before these Olympic qualifiers and I know well that if I can get one to two new things under my belt then I can get to Rio,” added the Wexford man.

Eight of yesterday’s nine bouts were open to the public – a novel occurrence considering most test matches are not – and new interim Irish head coach Zaur Antia ran the rule over his boxers, while fellow coaches John Conlan and Eddie Bolger worked the corners.

Somewhat curiously, however, Katie Taylor took to the ring behind closed doors prior to the advertised start time of 4pm.

The Olympic champion was in action against male opposition in Lisburn bantamweight Kurt Walker, and Bray native Taylor also used the event as a tune-up in advance of the European Olympic qualifiers, which will feature opportunities for female boxers to qualify at three weights for Rio.

In total, five of the Irish boxers competing yesterday - Taylor, Walsh, David Oliver Joyce, Brendan Irvine and Dean Gardiner- look set to travel to Samsun, Turkey for the qualifiers.

Barnes, Donnelly, Joe Ward and world champion Michael Conlan are the only four Irish boxers to have already booked their places for Rio, but the quartet will join the travelling team for a final pre-qualifier training camp in Assisi, Italy next week.

After nearly a year since his last competitive bout, three-time Olympian Barnes showed little sign of ring rust against Stephen McKenna.

“I feel fit and I’ve been sparring so I don’t feel that rusty,” said Barnes. “I haven’t had a proper fight in a while, but I’ll have a few hard spars next week and I’ll have another fight for Ireland in May in Lithuania so I’ll be flying for Rio. Since London 2012, I’ve only fought in one competition a year and I’ve done well since then so all I need is hard, international sparring,” added the Belfast light-flyweight.

Meanwhile, Donnelly came through his bout against European champ Stanionis unscathed and he is now looking forward to returning to competitive action in the World Series of Boxing – the competition he came through to book his place in Rio.

“This has been a brilliant camp for me, sparring with Stanionis, a European champion,” said Donnelly. “He’s very strong, you have to move a lot with him, but it was good sparring.

“I hope this will perk me up a wee bit, I had a WSB fight in Venezuela recently and I was terrible so all this and the training camp helps. I have another WSB fight in Poland too soon and I like to be kept busy,” added the 27-year-old Donnelly.

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