Bernard Dunne ready for toughest fight

Bernard Dunne admitted he would need to fully immerse himself in his new role as High Performance Director at the IABA in order to gain a grasp of the changes required within the Irish amateur boxing realm.

Bernard Dunne ready for toughest fight

To Dunne’s mind, 55 international medals within the space of two years would dictate that Irish boxing is in a far healthier state than we’ve been led to believe since a disastrous Rio Olympics last summer.

None of this is to suggest the former three-time Irish Senior Elite champion toed a party line on his unveiling at the Sport Ireland Institute, however.

Rather, within two sentences of being officially anointed in his new role, Dunne explained the need for on-campus accommodation for his boxers in Abbotstown, a sentiment doubtless appreciated by Belfast’s Brendan Irvine, Westmeath’s Joe Ward, and Cork’s Christina Desmond who stood attentively stage right as their new Director announced himself to the media.

“We’ve got to be ambitious,” Dunne said. “You’ve got to aim to be top dog. It’s about focusing on performance, and if we focus on performance, we’ll get what we deserve.”

“There’s no doubt we’ve a huge talent pool, and we’ve excellent coaches, as we’ve seen because some of them have been poached away.”

One of those poached fulfilled Dunne’s new gig in an unofficial capacity between Gary Keegan’s departure in 2008 and his own acrimonious exit in 2015.

Billy Walsh had phoned Dunne to offer his congratulations long in advance of the official announcement. With his finger on the Irish pugilistic pulse even from 7,000 kilometres east, the USA head coach had sent Dunne a text a couple of months previous wishing him luck with his application.

“Best man for the job,” was Walsh’s verdict, but it’s not the consensus.

Former super-bantamweight champion Dunne, however, had a stern message for those who perceive him to be too raw for the job.

“I’ve been part of a high-performance environment for the best part of my life,” he said.

“To say I wouldn’t understand it is a miscarriage of justice, in a sense. For the last five years, I’ve worked with the Dublin football team – arguably the best high-performance unit in the country. My entire professional career was all about high performance, and the last three years of my amateur career were about high performance.”

“You’re looking at nearly 20 years of being involved in a high-performance environment. And I think my in-depth knowledge of boxing will help me understand what the athletes are going through.”

During his congratulatory speech, Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy fondly recalled how Dunne had told him ‘where to go’ when he tried to convince the Dubliner to remain in the amateur ranks after the Dubliner had missed out on qualification for the Sydney Olympics.

Recent history, and indeed rumblings of fractured relationship between some members of the IABA’s Board of Directors, would suggest Dunne will require similar conviction if he’s to succeed in steering his new ship back on course. “Okay, we didn’t have a great [Olympic] Games,” Dunne said of that fateful Rio 2016 campaign.

“But we’ve got to look at that as an opportunity to build the brand of Irish boxing again.”

“We’re the only sport that goes into an Olympic cycle with expectations of success. That’s a huge pressure, but it’s a huge honour.”

Almost as if by design, Dunne’s moment on the mic was punctuated by the vociferous grunts of Galway’s new Irish lightweight champion Pat Mongan, who was busy assaulting the pads in the new state-of-the-art gym one room over. A comeback kid of sorts, Mongan will fight in an International Elite round robin this weekend, with the National Stadium playing host to strong teams from France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

His opponent is none other than Wladimir Nikitin, the Russian whose highly questionable defeat of Michael Conlan last summer would contribute to reshaping the Irish amateur boxing landscape forever.

And so the battle to banish the ghosts of Rio begins in earnest. It might transpire to be Dunne’s toughest.

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