Jack Marley and Aoife O’Rourke come through semi-finals to book Olympic tickets

20-year-old Dubliner Marley becomes first Irish heavyweight to qualify for Olympic Games since 1996

Jack Marley and Aoife O’Rourke both came through their semi-finals at the European Games in Poland on Friday to join Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh and Dean Clancy in qualifying for the Paris Olympics next year.

Both Marley and O’Rourke came back from losing their first rounds, and in O’Rourke’s case against local favourite Elzbieta Wojcik, to set up gold medal fights over the weekend.

Marley, the 20-year-old Dubliner, won on a split decision (4-1) against Spain’s Enmanual Reyes Pla, a 30-year-old 2022 European Championships silver medallist. He becomes the first Irish heavyweight boxer in 27 years to qualify for an Olympic Games, with Cathal O’Grady the last in 1996.

“I can’t believe it, it was a big mental strain today, everything was going through the head,” admitted Marley. “Unlike everyone else I had to get the bronze first, then qualify, it was just another obstacle in my head that I had to get past, it was tough but we’re here now and I can’t believe it.”


On the fight he said: “I enjoyed that right to the final minute, I was smiling the whole way through it. The first round I came out strong because I knew he’d tire, but I ended up losing the first round.

“That’s all right though, I think our other two fights I lost the first round too, but I don’t mind that. I had to go chasing it but it was worth it. He’s a very technical boxer, so I knew if I let him get a distance and get his running going, that was two minutes gone. So I knew I had to go out straight away, I couldn’t let him get his tempo. I’m absolutely speechless.”

Marley will fight Italy’s Aziz Abbes Mouhiidine for gold at 6.30pm Irish time on Saturday.

O’Rourke booked her second Olympic Games appearance after a titanic battle with Wojcik in the women’s middleweight semi-final.

The pair have faced off four times already with O’Rourke taking the win each time. Wojcik took the first round 4-1, full of confidence on her home turf. O’Rourke came out like a train in the second, and with the Irish supporters in full voice drowning out the shouts of ‘Polska, Polska’, the 25-year-old from Roscommon pushed on to take the second 4-1. The last round was scrappy, with both fighters tiring, but O’Rourke dug deep to take the win by split decision 3-2.

“I don’t know what to say, I’m lost for words, I’m absolutely over the moon,” said O’Rourke. “That was a tough, tough battle. No matter how many times I meet that girl it’s a battle every time, and it was to the wire today, so fair play to her as well. I’m delighted it was my day though and I got the ticket. No doubt she’ll qualify later in the year.”

Referring to the pressure to qualify she said: “It wasn’t about the result, it was more about the performance ... get in and do my best, that’s all anyone can do and if your best is good enough results will show, and I’m just delighted that all my hard work has paid off.

“We’ve been training really, really hard, we’ve had great training camps, and thanks to all the coaches and the rest of the team-mates, and our coaches at home in our clubs.”

O’Rourke will fight France’s Davina-Myrha Michel in the middleweight (75kg) final bout on Sunday at 12.30pm Irish time.

Beforehand Belfast’s Michaela Walsh bowed out with a bronze medal after losing on a split decision (4-1) in her featherweight (57kg) semi-final to 2023 World bronze medallist Amina Zidani of France.

Clancy also bowed out with a bronze medal, following an energetic performance against Tokyo silver medallist, three-time world champion and world number one Sofiane Oumiha of France. The Sligo boxer lost all three rounds, with the experienced Oumiha winning by unanimous decision.

“I came in here, I got three good wins against good lads, qualified for the Olympics, I’m only 21. I’ve a long stretch now between now and the Olympic Games, I’m going to see where I went wrong after this and assess it and see what I can change up.

“I’ve a long time now until the Olympics to really focus in and mature as an elite boxer. It’ll fly around but I’m looking forward to it, at least I can focus on the Olympics.’

“It’s going to take a while, but I feel like I’m a good learner, and I always watch over my fights to see where I went wrong. Between now and the Olympics, I feel like I’m going to be a different boxer. I’ve qualified, and I’m going to focus on that, and focus on myself, and develop it right. I’ll be in the best possible shape for them.”

Harrington dominated her semi-final clash against France’s Estelle Mossely, taking a unanimous decision win in the lightweight (60kg) category to power through to Saturday’s final against Natalia Shadrina of Serbia at 5.15pm Irish time.

Dubliner Harrington started strongly in a battle between the 2016 and 2021 Olympic champions at lightweight, taking the first round 4-1, and she stepped it up in the second round to win that 5-0, winning the last round 3-2 to secure a place in the gold medal fight.

Mossely went pro in 2018 and has a 11-1 record, but she returned to the amateur ranks earlier this year for a shot at a home Paris Games.

Speaking afterwards a pleased Harrington said: “I was nervous going in there but also felt excited. It’s the best with the best and that always makes you perform a little bit better, I felt good in there, so I’m happy enough.”

In kick-boxing, Ireland’s Conor McGlinchey comfortably won his quarter-final against Slovenia’s Erik Zorn in the men’s pointfighting 84kg. The Kildare man is now into the semi-finals and has secured at least a bronze medal with a 19-8 win.

Joining McGlinchey with at least bronze and a semi-final place is Tallaght’s Jodie Brown. The current WAKO senior World and European Champion took a decisive win over Croatia’s Lara Mihalic 12-2.

Earlier on the Irish team secured the first of their medals, courtesy of a bye for Nathan Tait in his quarter-final (74kg pointfighting), and a win for Bray’s Amy Wall in her 60kg full contact bout over Francesca Prescimone of France 3-0. Both will also advance now in search of at least a silver should they win their semi-finals.

Nicole Bannon was the fifth kickboxer to secure a guaranteed medal when she beat Martha Nystazou of Greece.