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Friday 9 December 2016

Olympic glory trail goes on

New book charts Irish medal haul of 16 going back to 1952

Kenneth Egan back in 2008
Kenneth Egan back in 2008

Irish boxers have won a total of 16 Olympic medals. That's more than all other sports combined.

In 1952, John McNally, from Belfast, was the pioneer when three wins brought him to the bantamweight final in Helsinki. He was beaten by the only Finnish boxer to reach the finals in Finland.

"All Pentti (Hämäläinen) did was hang on," says McNally in Seán McGoldrick's new book Punching Above Their Weight. "He was warned at least eight times but never lost a point."

Four years later, Irish boxers won four medals in Melbourne. Dubliner Fred Tiedt won silver while John Caldwell, Freddie Gilroy and Tony Byrne came back with bronze.

Michael Carruth won Ireland's first boxing gold in Barcelona in 1992. Wayne McCullough added silver.

"We had top-class boxers and coaches but no money to send squads abroad to training camps," said Brendán Ó Conaire of a time when we competed against state-sponsored boxers.

The establishment of the Irish Sports Council in 1997 enabled government funding be directed into boxing and the High Performance Unit was set up.

Beijing 2008 yielded a silver (Kenny Egan) and two bronze (Paddy Barnes and Darren Sutherland). London 2012 was glorious with gold for Katie Taylor, silver for John Joe Nevin, bronze for Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan.

Barnes and Conlan have qualified for Rio. Others are expected to join them. McGoldrick's engaging book is a timely reminder of what's at stake.

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