Three members of the Irish boxing team including 2018 World Champion Kellie Harrington have received byes in the first round of the Olympic event in Tokyo, which is due to begin on Saturday morning in Tokyo's Kokugikan Arena.
But several of Ireland’s team will meet tough opponents in the early stages of the competition.
Harrington, who won the European qualifying event just weeks ago in Paris, is the top seed in her lightweight division and hopes to carry on from Katie Taylor’s gold medal win in the same weight category at London 2012.
Belfast featherweight Michaela Walsh and her brother, welterweight Aidan, have also received byes, leaving the remaining four boxers in the seven-strong Irish team, featherweight Kurt Walker, flyweight Brendan Irvine, light-heavyweight Emmet Brennan and middleweight Aoife O'Rourke to negotiate the opening stages.
"We are happy where we are. We have sight now of what the first step looks like," said high-performance director, Bernard Dunne. "There's no easy draw in the Games and everyone has fought hard to get their spot, worked hard to be here and we have just got to perform. We've worked really hard as a unit to qualify seven [boxers] and our guys are ready. We just want the competition to start."
Walker is the only Irish boxer in action on the first day against Spain’s Jose Quiles Brotons, with Brennan facing an Uzbek opponent, Dilshod Ruzmetov, in the evening session on Sunday.
Irish captain Irvine, the only one on the team with Olympic Games experience from Rio, opens his account on Monday against Filipino Carlo Paalam with 2019 European Champion Aoife O’Rourke facing Chinese 31-year-old Qian Li in Wednesday’s evening session.
It’s a particularly tough challenge for the Castlerea fighter O’Rourke, who took up the sport at 18-years-old. She starts her Olympic career against an experienced former 2018 World Champion and bronze medal winner in Rio, who has ambitions to win the gold medal.
Brennan, too, will have to give the performance of his career against Ruzmetov. The 22-year-old was a silver medal winner in the 2019 World Championships and Asian Championship winner this year in Dubai.
“Seeding is one thing but she has to perform,” said Dunne of Harrington’s top placing in the draw. “Kellie knows that. We’ve moved from a very training phase to a very narrow focus on performance. Now we will be even more specific.”
Harrington comes into the draw for her first bout of the tournament against the winner of Italy’s Rebecca Nicoli and Mexico’s Esmeralda Falcon Reyes with Michaela Walsh facing the winner of Italy’s Irma Testa, who was fifth in Rio 2016, and the Russian Federation’s Luidmila Vorontsova. Again, it could be a problematic opening fight for Walsh if the silver medal winner from the 2019 World Championships, Vorontsova, comes through.
Walsh’s welterweight sibling Aidan fights the African winner of Cameroon boxer Albert Mengue Ayssi and Thabiso Dlamini from Swaziland in his first Olympic outing.
“We’ve worked with world-class training partners like the USA, the Germans, the French, Dutch, Australian teams,” said Dunne, who has been in Japan for a number of weeks.
“It was a great challenge for our group and you could see the level of performance rise through the camp.”