Ireland’s first ever Olympic boxing medalist, John McNally, has died aged 89 in Belfast


Ireland’s first-ever Olympic boxing medalist, John McNally, has died aged 89 in Belfast.

west Belfast fighter won bantamweight silver at the 1952 Games in Helsinki – at the age of just 19.

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John McNally died in BelfastCredit: Sportsfile – Subscription
McNally won silver at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland

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McNally won silver at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, FinlandCredit: Pacemaker Press

McNally lost the gold following a controversial split decision in the final bout against local contender Pentti Hamalainen.

The following year, he won a bronze medal at the European Championships in Warsaw.

IABA Chief Executive Fergal Carruth said: “John was an absolute gentleman and will be fondly remembered by many in the Irish boxing family.

“A remarkable and naturally gifted boxer, John paved the way for all of Irish boxing’s Olympic successes, winning our very first (silver) medal in 1952.

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“IABA Hall of Fame inductee John McNally was the first of a very select group of 18 Irish Olympians. boxing medalists when he was beaten by his home country’s Finnish fighter in the gold medal contest in Helsinki.

“His success as a boxer will forever be remembered by anyone who loves boxing in Ireland.”

His journey to Helsinki began at the age of 12 when he joined Immaculata Boxing Club in West Belfast.

On his way to an Olympic silver medal, McNally was the unanimous winner over Alejandro Ortuosto in his first fight before upsetting the highly rated Italian Vincenzo Dall’Osso in the quarter-finals.

In the semi-finals, McNally defeated his Korean opponent Joon-Ho Kang, but his quest for gold did not materialize, losing in the final to Hamalainen.

The decision was controversial as the Finn had been cautioned eight times during the fight for punching with the inside of his glove and hitting his head against McNally’s eye.

Commenting on the decision, McNally said: “It was the last day of the Games and the host country had yet to win a gold medal, so there was a lot of weight on the Finn’s shoulders to deliver.” I was devastated and in tears because I was convinced that I had won the gold medal.”

The Belfast native’s silver was the first of 18 medals Ireland have won in the ring at the Olympics – more than half of the country’s total of 35.

McNally was the third athlete to win an Olympic medal under the Irish flag, after Pat O’Callaghan and Bob Tisdall.

He won bronze at the European Championships in 1953 and before turning professional in 1954 he represented Europe against the United States in the Golden Gloves beating three American champions.

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McNally has competed in 25 professional fights and had a career record of 14-9-2 which saw him inducted into the Irish Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.

After retiring from the sport, he had a successful career as a musician with folk band The Freemen.

Fergal Carruth said McNally was a naturally gifted boxer

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Fergal Carruth said McNally was a naturally gifted boxerCredit: Sportsfile – Subscription
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