FIVE Irish boxers are already assured of their place at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris, but eight more including West Belfast’s Aidan Walsh are bidding to have joined them by the conclusion of the European Qualifier that begins in Busto Arzizio on Sunday.

Walsh claimed bronze at the Tokyo Games but missed out on last summer’s European Games that doubled as the first Olympic qualifier where his older sister, Michaela, punched her ticket for Paris alongside defending Olympic lightweight champion Kellie Harrington, Aoife O’Rourke, Dean Clancy and Jack Marley.

The Holy Family GG stylist lost out in the 2022 Irish Elite semi-finals to his namesake, Dean Walsh, who was afforded the opportunity to qualify in the light-middleweight category in Poland last year.

The Wexford man would retain the Irish title at the end of last year, a competition in which the Belfast Walsh was unable to compete in due to injury and subsequent assessments between the pair and Armagh’s Eugene McKeever resulted in the Commonwealth Games’ gold medal winer earning the nod to travel to Italy.

Walsh has been out of action since the Strandja Cup in early 2023, but Ireland coach Damian Kennedy has no concerns he will be firing on all cylinders next week after a recent training camp in Assisi.

“We all know what Aidan Walsh is capable of and saw that in Tokyo, then again at the Commonwealth Games,” Kennedy stressed.

“I couldn’t wait to see him box against Pat McCormack in the (Olympic) semi-final but hurt his ankle in the (quarter-final) celebrations. We could then see what he’s cable of again at the Commonwealth Games.

“He’s had a bit of time off but came back a fully refreshed athlete and is as hungry as I’ve ever seen him, eager to learn and pushing himself to get better. Aidan is performing as well as I’ve ever seen him and you wouldn’t think he’s been out of the ring.”

Walsh is the most high-profile of the eight heading to Italy given his past exploits on the world stage, but there is plenty of talent elsewhere on the team that includes Sean Mari (51kg), Kelyn Cassidy (80kg), Martin McDonagh (super-heavyweight), Daina Moorehouse (50kg), Jennifer Lehane (54kg), Grainne Walsh (66kg).
and Tyrone featherweight Jude Gallagher.

There will also be one last chance for those that miss out this time in a World Qualifier that is set to take place in Bangkok from May 23 to June 3.

Ireland qualified eight for the 2016 Games in Rio, so the ambition will be to at least equal that tally and preparations have gone according to plan.

“They’ve been performing really well and giving it 100 per cent in every session in Dublin, so we’re looking forward to it,” Kennedy added.

“It’s going to be tough as we know there are a lot of weight categories where past Olympic champions haven’t qualified yet.

“They are going to be two tough qualification tournaments, but we are confident we can get more across the line.

“In Dublin, they are exposed to a wide variety of training methods to help them adapt to whatever style is put in front of them.”