Two-time Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes has predicted that Ireland’s boxers will kick on from their exceptional four-medal performance in London four years ago and return from Rio later this year with an even bigger haul.
The Belfast light-flyweight, who it was revealed yesterday will pick up from where Katie Taylor left off in 2012 by carrying Ireland’s flag for the opening ceremony in Brazil, is himself seeking to become the first Irish athlete to claim medals at three different Games.
“Katie Taylor carried the last time and she came home with a gold medal,” he predicted. “I’m carrying this time and I’ll win a gold medal too. It’s going to be good. For me it’s a great, great honour. I couldn’t believe it. Unanimous decision.”
As good as a medal, he said at another point.
Barnes spoke of his extra maturity, his physique, and an improved diet when asked why he was so confident of topping the podium in his own particular class and he was to the point when asked if Ireland’s fighters could improve on their record showing last time.
“It’s not a question of can we? It’s ‘we will’.” Barnes is one of half-a-dozen confirmed boxers so far though that figure should rise. Taylor is expected to rebound from her defeat to Yana Alekseevna at the European qualifiers by clinching her spot at next month’s World Championships and a handful of male boxers have another qualifier to target in June.
It is already a team replete with experience and potential and one Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) official summed it up succinctly when describing the boxers as the “heart” of team Ireland at yesterday’s event in Dublin to mark the fact that Rio was only one hundred days away.
They are certainly that.
An Olympic bronze medallist at bantamweight in London, Michael Conlan moved up the ranks with world championship gold in Doha last year. He feels Ireland remain on track for more boxing success under interim head coach Zaur Antia after the departure to America of Billy Walsh.
“We have one more qualified than last time,” said Conlan on that. “We had five then (in London) and now we have six.
“I’m very confident we will go there and pick up more than one gold and I am very confident that I am going to be one of them golds.
“I’m excited. Preparation is going fantastic. Even with Billy gone it is exactly the same, if not better, with Zaur. He is on the floor a lot more and he’s working a lot harder and giving a bit more one-to-one to each boxer, so it is fantastic.”
It was Walsh who actually gave voice to the ambition that Ireland should seek to top the boxing medal table at future Olympiads. Joint-fifth with Kazakhstan in 2012, they will need to improve on the one gold secured by Taylor then to aspire to that.
Yet the boxers are just one branch of what is predicted to be Ireland’s biggest ever Olympic contingent. With 66 athletes currently confirmed, the eventual figure could rise to 80-plus. Golf, badminton, modern pentathlon, and triathlon are all virtually guaranteed to provide further personnel.
The cut-off date for all is July 11, but OCI president Pat Hickey was already confident enough yesterday to declare that this team, whatever its size or eventual performance in Brazil, will be “the best prepared” collective to represent this country at a Games.
Team leaders, coaches, and medical personnel have made five orientation visits to Rio and Uberlandia where Team Ireland’s holding camp has been established while communications channels have been opened with the various competition managers responsible for the events on the ground.
Hickey was especially excited by the participation of an Irish team at the Olympics for the first time since 1948 thanks to the qualification of the men’s hockey squad and there were tributes paid to a number of other qualifiers whose presence will be especially notable.
Among them were Oliver Dingley (first Irish diver since 1948), Ellis O’Reilly (first Irish female gymnast) and Shannon McCurley (first Irish female track cyclist). All told, there will be Irish interest across half of the 28 sports.
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