Walsh and Walker aiming to help make it a Super Sunday for Team Ireland

Boxers battle for medal glory as they seek to extend Ireland’s proud Olympic record

If it becomes part of Irish Olympic lore as a Super Sunday in Tokyo, it is also likely boxing won't be found wanting.

The golf with Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry in the Kasumigaseki Country Club, the pommel in the Ariake Gymnastics Centre with Rhys McClenaghan and two boxers – Aidan Walsh and Kurt Walker – in the Kokugikan Arena would make quite a memorable Olympic five if they were all to succeed on the same day.

Walker faces the USA's Duke Ragan in the quarter-finals of the men's featherweight competition. The tie up here is that former Irish coach Billy Walsh will be in the corner of the American professional boxer, allowed to compete under current rules.

Walker has already turned heads after beating the top-seeded Uzbeki boxer and former World Champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov 4-1 in the last 16. The winner of Ragan and Walker will be guaranteed a bronze medal.


Walsh, who faces Britain’s Pat McCormack has already secured a bronze and is fighting for a place in the final.

"I've known Kurt since he was a kid and he has come right through the performance program in Ireland. So he's an exceptional talent," says coach Walsh.

“We’ve got two of the best fighters in the world right now and they’ve made that point here. He’s beaten the number one seed and for me and plenty of other people that puts him in the number one position now.”

That is fight talk from Walsh, who was forced out of Irish boxing before the Rio Olympics in 2016 despite being the sport's most successful coach at London 2012 and various world championships. His Cincinnati fighter has had four professional fights and won all of them.

“Well, Duke has come back to us from the being professional for the last year and a half or so, and he’s got a very good speed, he’s got power for the weight division and he’s got awareness,” says Walsh. “Boxing has been his life so he has a good tactical brain as well. I’m excited to see it because they’ve got two contrasting styles.”

Walsh would also know and respect John Conlan and Zaur Antia, the Irish coaches, especially Antia who he travelled the world with for a number of years prior to his departure to the US High Performance unit in Arizona.

Classical style

“Kurt boxes in the classical style,” said Walsh. “Duke has more of that American style, close distance and all that. They’ve beaten people they shouldn’t have beaten on the way here. They both have two wins under their belt and beaten guys who were medallists in their own continent.”

Already a bronze medalist at least, Walsh meets Sunderland’s McCormack, who he has faced before in the 2018 Commonwealth Games final, where the English welterweight came out on top. But the Irish boxer has learned to celebrate what he has achieved already after experiencing a dramatic turn in his career and life. He was about to walk away from the sport three years ago.

“There was just a lot of stuff going on in my personal life, that was just really hard to overcome and I did, thanks to the support of my girlfriend, family and coaches,” said Walsh.

“I wasn’t even on the Irish team for the last Olympics. I only came onto the Irish team about two or three years ago and since then the coaches have been amazing and then my own coach, Paul Johnston, my mother, my father, girlfriend, sisters, I’ve just so many people to thank for their support. It’s just an amazing journey so far and I just want to keep it going and going.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times