Kellie Harrington, Amy Broadhurst and Aoife O’Rourke lead charge in the boxing Euros
Despite the loss of World Light Middleweight champion Lisa O’Rourke due to a thumb injury, this is the most decorated female team ever to represent Ireland at a major championships.
Heading the list is Olympic champion Kellie Harrington, who won a bronze medal in the lightweight division at the 2018 Euros in Sofia.
She missed the World Championship earlier this year in Istanbul but on form will expect to be the dominant force in the lightweight division.
Amy Broadhurst is bidding for a unique hat-trick having already struck gold at the World Championships in Turkey and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in two different weights; light welterweight and lightweight respectively.
A bronze medallist in the light welterweight category at the last European Championships in Spain in 2019 she is back in the 63kg category in Budva and, like Harrington, is the overwhelming favourite in the division.
Ireland’s only reigning female European champion Aoife O’Rourke will be defending her middleweight crown she secured in 2019.
Even though her younger sister Lisa has overshadowed her this season, the Roscommon fighter is vastly experienced having competed in the Tokyo Olympics.
Another Tokyo Olympian – Michaela Walsh – is aiming for a double, having won the Commonwealth Games Featherweight title in Birmingham this summer.
She too has her sights set on a podium place though her ambitions for a gold medal will be tested by the Italian Irma Testa who beat the Belfast featherweight on her way to securing a bronze me dal in Tokyo. Walsh has a bronze Euro medal from 2018.
These will be an istoric championships – though not for a good reason. All the indications are that international amateur boxing is heading for a damaging split.
The United States, Australia and New Zealand – together with the majority of EU countries as well as the UK – are set to break away from the Umar Kremlev-led International Boxing Association.
The decision by IBA Board to lift the ban on Russian and Belarussian boxers competing in international tournaments, which was imposed in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has set in motion a chain of events which will change the sport forever.
The only reason next week’s championships won’t be impacted is that the decision to allow the Russian and Belarus fighters back into the fold was made after the closing date for entries for the event.
Sweden and Finland have already indicated they will boycott events at which Russian and Belarus boxers are competing.
Other members of the Common Cause Alliance group, including Ireland, who have campaigned against the policies of the Russian-born IBA President Umar Kremlev appear to have little option but to follow the example of Sweden and Finland.
Ultimately the establishment of a new world governing body for amateur fighting, which may be recognised by the International Olympic Committee, could guarantee the future of the sport in the Olympics. But there will be a lot of angst before this can be achieved, if ever.
Away from the politics of the sport this is a key tournament ahead of the Paris Olympics. The first European qualification tournament for the 2024 Games will be staged next Summer (June 21-July 2) in the Polish city of Krakow during the European Games.
The odds are that all the boxers in action next week in Montenegro will be aiming for Olympic qualification in Krakow next summer.
The big difference between the two tournaments is that whereas there are 12 weight categories in the Europeans there will be only six at the Olympics.
This has implications for Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke as the two weights in which they won gold medals at the World Championships are not included in the Olympic programme.
For now, the Irish squad under head coach Zaur Antia just completed a training camp in Turkey and will focus on the task at hand.
The absence of the Russian squad, who have topped the medals table at the previous 12 European Championships – winning a total 44 gold medals – gives Ireland a realistic chance of improving on their best ever fourth placing achieved at the last Euros in 2019.
Ireland has won seven gold medals at this level with Katie Taylor unbeaten in the lightweight division between 2005 and 2014, collecting six titles on the spin, while Aoife O’Rourke won the middleweight title in 2019. Curiously we have never won a silver medal but have collected five bronze medals.
The most experienced boxer on the team, Christina Desmond, won one of those bronze medals at the 2016 Euros in Sofia in the middleweight division.
Ranked number five in the world in the flyweight category, Carly McNaul won silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and again this summer.
Bantamweight Niamh Fay was crowned European U-22 champion in Croatia last May and the other team members are Shannon Sweeney, Caitlin Fryers and Kaci Rock.