Today is the 70th anniversary of Ireland’s winning of a first ever Olympic boxing medal. On this day, at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, John McNally carved his name in the annals of Irish Boxing history and laid the foundation for boxing heroes to follow.
The Belfast man claimed the bantamweight silver medal on August 2nd, 1952, by split decision in his final against home boxer, Pentti Hamalainen of Finland. His route to the final included unanimous decision wins over a Filipino boxer, an Italian boxer and a South Korean boxer.
Of his final, 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,’
In 1953, McNally took bronze at the European championships and won the Golden Gloves Championships representing Europe against the US.
He was inducted into the IABA Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008 and passed away, aged 89, on April 4th of this year.
The IABA’s Chief Executive, Fergal Carruth, says “A standout, naturally gifted boxer, John paved the way for all of Irish boxing’s Olympic success, winning our first ever medal (silver) in 1952. IABA hall of fame inductee John McNally was the first of a very select group of 18 Irish Olympic boxing medallists when he was beaten by the narrowest of margins by the home country Finnish fighter in the gold medal contest in Helsinki. His success as a boxer will be forever remembered by all who love boxing in Ireland.”
John’s historic medal was to herald 70 years of achievement by Irish boxers at successive Olympiads, and boxing remains Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport. Ireland has won 35 medals, in all disciplines, of which 18 are boxing medals. 9 of Ireland’s boxing Olympic medals have been won in a 14 year period since the 2008 games in Beijing.
Fred Tiedt: Silver, men’s welterweight, 1956, Melbourne
Tony Byrne: Bronze, men’s lightweight, 1956, Melbourne
John Caldwell: Bronze, men’s flyweight, 1956, Melbourne
Freddie Gilroy: Bronze, men’s bantamweight, 1956, Melbourne
Jim McCourt: Bronze, men’s lightweight, 1964, Tokyo
Hugh Russell: Bronze, men’s flyweight, 1980, Moscow
Michael Carruth: Gold, men’s welterweight, 1992, Barcelona
Wayne McCullough: Silver, men’s bantamweight, 1992, Barcelona
Kenny Egan: Silver, men’s light heavyweight, 2008, Beijing
Darren Sutherland: Bronze, men’s middleweight, 2008, Beijing
Paddy Barnes: Bronze, men’s light flyweight, 2008, Beijing; Bronze, men’s light flyweight, 2012, London
Katie Taylor: Gold, women’s lightweight, 2012, London
John Joe Nevin: Silver, men’s bantamweight, 2012, London
Michael Conlan: Bronze, men’s flyweight, 2012, London
Aidan Walsh: Bronze, men’s middleweight, 2021, Tokyo
Kellie Harrington: Gold, women’s lightweight, 2021, Tokyo