When the Indian boxing team’s high-performance director Bernard Dunne joined the conversation via a social media application, the Irishman quickly grabbed a bottle of water. After watching his country’s sensational win over England in the rain-drenched Super 12 match of the T20 World Cup in Melbourne on Wednesday afternoon on his phone, the 42-year-old needed something to quench his thirst after the high-tension match. The former Irish boxing high-performance director, who replaced Swede Santiago Nieva, had also watched the much-anticipated T20 world championship match between India and Pakistan on Sunday.
“I’m happy that Ireland won. I watched the game and it was great. Thank god for the rain we won. I watch cricket and along with my boxers watched the full India v Pakistan game on Sunday. It was a tough game for the Irish after losing to Sri Lanka. The key for them was that they believed in themselves. And that’s what I want from my boxers: to believe in their abilities,” Dunne told The Indian Express.
The Irishman, who won the IBA super-bantamweight world title while still pro, had his first experience watching Indian boxers in action at the London 2012 Olympics.
Dunne worked as an analyst for a TV station during the London Olympics. With India sending a record eight boxers to London, only Mary Kom won a medal. Boxers like Vikas Krishan suffered a loss to American Errol Spence before the quarterfinals, a 13-11 decision in the Indian’s favor that was later reviewed and propelled the American to victory. It resulted in a medalless Olympics for the men’s boxers, followed by the Rio Olympics where only three Indian men’s boxers qualified and none of the women’s boxers managed to qualify.
“After the Rio Olympics, I had a working relationship with the Indian team for almost five years while I was with the Irish boxing team. I had good relations with Santiago and Raffaele Bergamasco and we have trained together several times in Ireland as well as in Germany with the current group of Indian boxers. The lack of Olympic medals shouldn’t affect these boxers’ skills. In our sport, the Olympics are the pinnacle of amateur boxing and we bring the best boxers to compete for the medal.
“Indian boxers have won medals at the Olympics. Potentially they should have won more. My job over the next two years is to shape this team and maximize its performance,” adds Dunne.
In London, three Irish boxers won medals, with Katie Taylor taking gold alongside John Nevin in the women’s lightweight and Michael Conlan (flyweight) and Paddy Barnes (light flyweight) winning silver and bronze respectively in the bantamweight division.
None of the Irish boxers could win a medal at the Rio Olympics. After Rio, Dunne began working with the Irish boxing team, and the former professional boxer has watched Kellie Herrington win Olympic women’s lightweight title and Aidan Walsh win bronze at the 2021 men’s welterweight games.
High success rate with Ireland
Compared to nine Indian boxers in Tokyo, seven Irish boxers qualified for Tokyo, with two of them winning a medal each, including Herrington’s gold. “Kellie won gold in Tokyo while Aidan won bronze. The key for us was that we were focused as a team and on the same path with each of the seven boxers. Whether it was sports science, strength and conditioning, or technical coaching, every boxer understood what we were trying to achieve. We won two medals and five boxers didn’t win medals. That’s no mistake for these five boxers. I’m very proud of all five. Everyone understood and trusted me to help them maximize their potential. This is what my job with Indian boxers will look like. To help each of them maximize their potential,” says the former boxer.
While world no.
Lovlina Borgohain won India’s third medal in boxing at the Olympics, bronze, in the women’s welterweight division and was followed within a month by the resignation of women’s high performance director Raffaele Bergamasco. Also Chief High Performance Director Santiago Nieva joined the Australian team earlier this year and Dunne has his duties cut out for the Indian boxers.
“The key for us will be to reach the climax at the Olympics in Paris at the right time. With 629 days remaining, every day counts. It’s not like you walk mountains and chop down trees every day to prepare for Paris. Many of those days are rest days and many days are spent understanding how best to maximize performance. As a manager, it is my job to create the right individual programs for each of my boxers and to focus resources on each individual and weight class. And for the boxers, each of them needs to have a voice about their training program. It’s their career and they should be able to express their opinions about training too,” said Dunne, who also worked as a performance coach with a Dublin County football team.
As the Indian team face their first challenge under Dunne in the form of the Asian Championships in Jordan next week, the Irishman knows how tough the road to the Paris Olympics will be. Prior to Tokyo, India had won 13 Asian Championships medals and nine Indian boxers qualified for Tokyo.
With countries like Brazil, Turkey and Ireland each having an Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo, Dunne believes an Indian boxer can also win Olympic gold. “There is a huge amount of talent in the country and there are different boxers boxing with different styles. When someone is good at counter-attacking, it’s my job to continue honing their style, and the same goes for the boxers who box with a good ring IQ. The key for me is to build trust with each of the boxers so that I’m able to fairly score points on their performance,” concludes Dunne.