Irish boxing had high hopes of medalling at the 1948 Olympic Games in London following a number of confidence-boosting performance in top international competition.
Prior to the first Olympiad after WW2, Ireland had made notable progress and entered its first major tournament besides the Olympics at the 1937 European Elite Championships in Milan.
Four Irish athletes, Ernie Smith, James Healy, Frank Kerr and Lydon (first name unrecorded) lined out in Italy. The quartet failed to get beyond the last-eight stage at the 5th edition of the tournament.
Two years later, however, Irish boxing announced its arrival on a international stage and medals podium at the 1939 European Elite Championships at the National Stadium in Dublin.
The Stadium, the first purpose build boxing venue in the world, was officially opened amid great pomp and ceremony that year and the then Irish Amateur Boxing Association, now the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, proudly hosted its first major tournament at the South Circular Road venue.
The Boys in Green didn’t disappoint on home turf, with Jimmy Ingle and Paddy Dowdall winning flyweight and featherweight gold and Charles Evenden securing bronze after a box-off victory.
The haul saw Ireland finish in second spot in the medals table behind Italy. Ingle was 17-years old, and, along with Rio 2016 Olympian Joe Ward, who won European Elite gold aged 17 in 2011, is the youngest ever Irish European Elite champion.
Meantime, the IABA also hosted the 1947 European Championships, the first European Championships after WW2 – although Germany hosted an unofficial European Championships in Germany in 1942. The results were annulled by AIBA after WW2) – at the National Stadium.
Gearoid O’Colmain won gold after beating England’s George Scriven in the heavyweight decider and Pete McGuire secured silver in Dublin to help Ireland finish in third spot in the medals table.
O’Colmain was named on an eight-strong Irish squad for the 1948 Olympics, but the Dubliner, who worked as a blacksmith, dropped a points decision to Italy’s Uber Baccilieri in his first bout.
Maxie McCullagh fared better, beating Finland’s Tauno Rinkinen and Great Britain’s Ronnie Cooper before losing to Danish lightweight Sven Wad in the quarter-finals.
Ireland’s injury jinx struck again in the middleweight class. Mick McKeon won three bouts in this division, beating Canada’s John Keenan, Iran’s Hossein Toussi and France’s Aime Joseph-Escudie before losing to Johnny Wright of Great Britain in the semi-finals. Wright was beaten by Hungarian legend Laszlo Papp in the final.
But the Dubliner, whose brother Eamonn represented Ireland, also at middleweight, at the 1960 Olympics, picked up an injury in his last-four duel with Wright and had to withdraw from the box-off for bronze with Italy’s Ivano Fontana.
London 1948 marked the fourth successive Olympics where an Irish boxer reached the semi-finals – which would be enough to secure at least bronze under today’s rules.
Willie Lenihan, who won two bouts, Kevin Martin and Peter Foran, who was beaten by eventual silver medallist, Horrace Herring (USA), and Hugh O’Hagan also registered victories at the 14th Olympiad.
The London Games set a new record for entries for boxing with 205 athletes from 39 nations competing across eight weight divisions.
The Games also took place under the auspices of the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateure (AIBA), who had replaced the Fédération Internationale de Boxe Amateur (FIBA) in 1946. FIBA was dissolved because it had, according to reports. lost credibility because of the conduct of some of its officials during WW2.
The limits in each division, which had remained static since 1920, were adjusted to metric measurements for the 1948 Games, e.g., the light-heavyweight class limit changed from 175 lbs./79.38 kg. to 80 kg./177 lbs.
The venue for boxing at the 1948 Games was actually a temporary drawbridge laid out over the Empire Pool at Wembley. Earls Court was also used as a venue for boxing at the 1948 Olympiad.
The 1948 squad won ten and lost nine bouts. Ireland’s stats from four Olympics now stood at: 28 boxers (including boxers who represented Ireland twice) used: Wins 20. Losses 31 (including walkovers for and against). Four boxers through to semi-finals).
Meantime, Ireland’s wait for that elusive Olympic medal in boxing would last another four years when a young man from Belfast called John McNally punched his way into the history books.
IRISH BOXING AT LONDON 1948
Flyweight: Alf William Barnes (Windsor)
Lost to Frantisek Majdloch (Czechoslovakia) Pts
Bantamweight: Willie Lenihan (Arbour Hill)
Beat R.G. Behm (Luxembourg) Pts
Beat Olavi Ouvinen (Finland) PTS
Lost to Giovanni Battista Zuddas (Italy) TKO3
Featherweight: Kevin Martin (Mount Street)
Beat Nicholas Linneman (Holland) Pts
Lost to eventual gold medallist Ernesto Fermenti (Italy) 0-3
Lightweight: Maxie McCullagh (Corinthians)
Beat Tauno Rinkinen (Finland) Pts
Beat Ronnie Cooper (Great Britain) Pts
Lost to Sven Wad (Denmark) Pts
Welterweight: Peter Foran (St Andrew’s)
Beat Gareeb Afifi (Egypt) Pts
Lost to eventual silver medallist Horace Herring (USA) Pts
Middleweight: Mick McKeon (ITC)
Beat John Keenan (Canada) Pts
Beat Hossein Toussi (Iran) Pts
Beat Aime-Joseph Escudie (France) Pts
Lost to Johnny Wright (Great Britain) Pts
Bronze medal box-off
Lost to Ivano Fontana (Italy) W/O
Light-heavyweight: Hugh O’Hagen (Corinthians)
Beat Hans Schwerzmann (Switzerland) Pts
Lost to Adrian Holmes (Australia) Pts
Heavyweight: Gearoid O’Colmain (North City)
Lost to Uber Baccilieri (Italy) Pts