Jack Marley’s heavyweight ambitions for Paris benefiting from early Olympic qualification

The 21-year-old from Monkstown who secured his Paris berth last June hopes to add to Ireland’s Olympics boxing success

Only five months to go. Each time Jack Marley gets these gentle reminders he’s thankful for how far he’s already come, his rapid rise in the boxing ranks ensuring his Olympic journey got a head start of sorts.

Marley was among the five Irish boxers who sealed their Paris berth at the European Games in Krakow last June, the then 20-year-old from Monkstown Boxing Club in south Dublin becoming Ireland’s first heavyweight qualifier since 1996 – his silver medal in that class also our first anywhere since the famed Gearóid Ó Colmáin, the European heavyweight champion back in 1947.

Eight months on from Krakow, Marley has been ramping up his Paris preparations, winning bronze at the esteemed Strandja tournament in Bulgaria earlier this month. This week, he heads to the first World qualifier tournament in Busto Arsizio, outside Milan, to support the Irish team aiming to qualify three more boxers, with about 700 international contenders for a further 50 Paris berths.

It’s not going to be easy, which is why Marley’s success last June has taken on even greater meaning.


“I didn’t really take it into consideration how lucky I was to qualify so early until now,” he says. “When I saw everyone else training, and getting ready for the World qualifier, it’s obviously a massive advantage that I’ve qualified so early.”

Marley will contest the European Championships in Serbia in April, before turning all his attention to Paris: this after all has been the dream since he joined Monkstown at age nine, and won his first Irish title at age 11.

“Ever since I put on the gloves as an eight-year-old, the Olympics were the pinnacle, the highest you can go in amateur boxing. I was back and forth between boxing and playing soccer (with St Joseph’s) up until I was 13 or 14. But I just fell in love in boxing, and that was it.”

He’s had some inspiration along the way, Katie Taylor visiting his primary school, Monkstown Educate Together, shortly after her London success in 2012.

“That was huge, they really built up those Games for Katie, and I remember the scenes in Bray, thousands on the seafront, watching her win that final. We’re Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport, so I know the legacy that Irish boxing has at the Olympics. I hope to add to it. That’s the ambition, it’s as far as we can go. I have to aim for that. It would be silly not to.”

He’s taken his chances too, Irish boxing’s then high performance manager Bernard Dunne inviting him into the elite training group in May 2021, four weeks before he was due to sit his Leaving Cert; so he opted for the predicted grades allowed during Covid-19, did okay anyway, then worked part-time before joining that elite group for real.

“It wasn’t easy, the first year and a half to two years was unpaid but I’m reaping the rewards now. We came in Tuesday to Friday, so I worked Monday and Saturday. I did many things, like landscaping, when I finally got driving, I did flower deliveries. Bouquets, chocolates and wine.

“But the end goal still hasn’t changed, and we’re pushing towards that now.”

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Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics