100 years of Irish Olympic Boxing: the team of Helsinki 1952

As Irish Boxing prepares to celebrate its Olympic centenary, we celebrate every team which has boxed who’ve boxed for Team Ireland.

Today marks 18 days to the first bell at Paris 2024, and we revisit Helsinki, 1952 – this was a pivotal Games for Team Ireland, as it marked the claiming of the first of 18 podium places, to date.

John McNally, who contested as a bantamweight, was just 20 when he made it to the final of the 1952 Olympic Games,. John overcame Filipino, Italian, and South Korean opposition in the preliminaries, Quarter Final and Semi Final. He was ultimately beaten by home favourite Pentti Hamalainen on a split decision.

Of his bout, John said ‘It was the last day of the Games and the host nation had not yet won a gold medal, so there was a lot of weight on the Finn’s shoulders to deliver. It came down to the three judges and the British judge gave it to me, while the American and the Austrian gave it to Hamalainen. I was devastated and in floods of tears because I was convinced that I had won the gold medal,’

John went on to contest the European Championships in Warsaw the following year and came away with bronze. Before turning pro, he represented Europe against the US in the Golden Gloves and was the victor over three American Golden Gloves champions. He was inducted into the Irish Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.

John’s unprecedented podium finish at Helsinki marked the beginning of an extraordinary 72 years of achievement for Irish boxers at Olympic games. Boxing, as Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport, has claimed 18 of the country’s 38 medals. 9 of Ireland’s boxing medals have been won since 2008.

Team Ireland, Helsinki 1952

Flyweight: Ando Reddy (Sandymount): Lost to Aristide Pozzali (Italy) 0-3

Bantamweight: John McNally (White City) – Silver

Beat Alejandro Ortuoste (Philippines) 3-0
Beat Vincenzo Dall’osso (Italy) 3-0
Beat Joon-Ho Kang (Korea) 3-0

Final: Lost to Pentti Hamalainen (Finland) 1-2

Featherweight: Tommy Reddy (Sandymount): Lost to Stefan Redli (Yugoslavia) KO2

Lightweight Kevin Martin (Mount Street): Beat Marcel van de Keere (Belgium) 2-1
Lost to Gheorghe Fiat (Romania) 0-3

Light-welter: Terry Milligan (Shortt and Harland): Beat Ebraham Afsharpour (Iran) 3-0
Beat Pieter van Klaveren (Holland) 3-0
Lost to Bruno Vistinin (Italy) 0-3

Welterweight: Peter Crotty (Clonmel): Lost to Harry Gunnarsson (Sweden) KO2

Middleweight: Willie Duggan (Crumlin): Lost to eventual silver medallist Vasile Tita (Romania) DQ3

Heavyweight: John Lyttle (St George’s): Lost to Jean Lansiaux (France) 0-3

Check out the opening ceremony here:

There were 4,925 athletes from 69 countries, of which the Soviet Union first participated in the Olympics and Germany for the first time since World War II. A total of 149 competitions were held in 17 different sports.

The biggest heroes of the Games were Viktor Chukarin of the Soviet Union, who won four gymnastics Olympic gold medals, and Czechoslovakia’s Emil Zátopek, who won three running golds. The United States achieved the most medals; 40 gold, 19 silver, 17 bronze. The host country, Finland, had 6 gold, 3 silver and 13 bronze medals