Commandant Adrian Watson has admitted that the qualification process for the World Military (CISM) Games in China wasn’t an easy one.
The multi-sport event featuring over 10,000 athletes from 110 nations starts Friday in Wuhan. The Army will represent Ireland in boxing, football and shooting.
Click here for the boxing schedule.
Ross Hickey, a multiple Irish Elite champion, Danny O’Brien, Irish Senior champion and Boxer of the Year, and national titlist Leona Houlihan, the first female boxer to represent Ireland at the Games, are included on a formidable-looking seven-strong panel.
Watson hailed the support of IABA CEO Fergal Carruth and High-Performance Director Bernard Dunne in the build-up to the 7th edition of the Games.
“At the minute we are in the CISM Olympic Village here in Wuhan where the anticipation for this famous world event is amazing. The Chinese love and worship their sport and this is highly reflective in the setup, said the Roscommon native.
“Overall, in our history, we have only won 6 military medals including four at boxing, the latest from Willie Egan, brother of Kenny, in the CISM in Rome 1995. It is nó coincidence our boxers have performed the most successful in these prestigious Olympic World Level Games.
“Over the last number of years, in collaboration with Comdt John Moody (Clare) and Comdt Brian Donagh (Kildare), we went about creating an environment of finding the best talent within the organisation and developing it, culminating in the most exciting and notable All Army finals where the top athletes were brought into High-Performance training camps obviously covering Military duties in their dual role as Soldiers and Elite Sportsmen consecutively.
Watson persuaded Hickey, who claimed bronze at the 2008 Europeans in Liverpool, to give it another shot.
He continued: “It has to be noted that our most successful recruitment tool is our athletes and boxing has done a lot to encourage this.
“Danny O’Brien was one of our first success stories winning a coveted National Senior Title in 2018 and he subsequently won Irish Senior Boxer of the Year. Ross Hickey is a former four-time National Elite champion and a former European bronze medalist. He returned to training after I sought him out in Cookstown Gym last year asking him would he like to try to finish his career bowing out at this Olympic level event having narrowly missed out on London Olympic qualification in 2012.
“Brian Kennedy from Offaly is a former National U/22 champion and also a top prospect at the Games having comprehensively fought the last amateur to beat Joe Ward in a recent training camp in the German Elite Sports Academy where Col Tom Callaghan with Gen Peter O’Halloran ensured we got the best preparation leading into these major Championships.
“There’s something about an Irish soldier fighting for his honour and representing his country that captures the imagination. Sgt John Molloy is Head Coach from Offaly bringing a wealth of experience from his GAA /Boxing background.
“Cpl Leona Houlihan will represent Crumlin Boxing Club and Phil Sutcliffe, a two-time Olympian and European medallist, at the Games having successfully won two Elite National titles and will be the first lady stepping into the ring for the Irish Army as this is the first year female boxers are allowed participate in the CISM Olympics.
“The road to qualifying has not been easy, and to do this one has to beat the best laid before one at the All-Army finals and fight at Elite level as well as top national tournaments. Fergal Carruth and Bernard Dunne have been immensely supportive from the IABA”.
The draw will be held this Friday with boxing slated to begin 24 hours later.
Watson added: “A life less ordinary in the Irish Military, not only signifies the opportunity to serve your country overseas in a robust environment, but it also includes the ability to compete at the highest level against the best athletes in the World at a Military Olympics.
“There is no doubt that the Irish boxers will bring the stadium to their feet with their bravery and physical courage, virtues significant and reflective of the Irish Army soldier,” he concluded.
The Irish Army has played a notable role in the evolution of boxing as Ireland’s most successful sport.
Six of the seven-strong Irish boxing team for Paris 1924, Ireland’s first Olympiad as an independent nation, were Irish army men.
Meanwhile, Wuhan is seven hours ahead of Ireland.
Images: Squad, Ross Hickey with Team Manager Adrian Watson, head coach Sgt John Molloy and training shot.
Team Manager Comdt: Adrian Watson (Roscommon)
Head coach: Sgt John Molloy (7th Batt) (Offaly)
80kg: Cpl Leona Houlihan (Dublin)
64kg: Pte Stephen Lockhart (7th Dublin)
69kg: Pte, Ross Hickey (Kildare)
75kg: Lt Mike Connelly (Galway)
81kg: Tpr Brian Kennedy (Offaly)
91kg: Pte Danny O’Brien (Dublin)
91kg+: Pte Antoine O Gríofa (Galway)