The Irish boxing team arrived in Azerbaijan on Wednesday morning and the athletes have been busy getting used to life in Baku ahead of the start of competition. Led by head coach Billy Walsh and technical coach Zaur Antia, Irish boxing is currently enjoying huge success, spearheaded by record-breaking Olympic Champion Katie Taylor.
“It drives you on having Katie in the team”, said 20 year-old bantamweight Kurt Walker at the team’s hotel restaurant. She’s done so much and is so down-to-earth. Its good to have someone there like her, a big champion.” Walker has been training flat out for twelve weeks in Dublin to reach peak fitness in time for the historic Games.
While Taylor completes training with her own team, the rest of Ireland’s boxing medal hopefuls were among the first athletes to arrive in Baku, part of a deliberate ploy by the team to allow the young squad time to get over the jet lag and used to the Azerbaijani summer heat. After a short time to acclimatise, they were quickly thrown into an intensive training camp with the Azerbaijan and Bulgarian teams.
“We’re used to big competitions but this is the biggest any of us have been to”, said Sean McComb, whose first lightweight fight comes on 16 June. “You can see what all the hype is about.”
“This is a young team”, says Billy Walsh, “but to get this kind of experience a year-and-a-half out from the Olympics is phenomenal. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’ll only ever be one ‘first’ European Games and they’re going to be a part of history in the making”.