A New Dawn: Bernard Dunne's 'historic' appointment and a 'vision for excellence'

The IABA's newly appointed High Performance Director was unveiled at the National Sports Campus on Thursday

Bernard Dunne

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Few times has an appointment looked so obvious.

Bernard Dunne is, after all, a former world boxing champion. Speaking today at his unveiling by the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) as their new High Performance Director, he joked: "I won't be making bantamweight any time soon."

But those days are behind him. Dunne's focus is now on the next generation of Irish boxers and rebuilding after last summer's Olympic Games.

Ireland's most successful sport at the global showpiece, the boxers left Rio empty handed and have seen four of their most high profile athletes turn professional.

Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor have all since embarked on their professional careers, the latter of whom will appear on the undercard for Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko this weekend.

"Obviously, the results [in Rio] didn’t go our way," Dunne says.

"You have to look at the positives from those games. We qualified eight boxers for those Games. The most we’ve ever qualified in the current qualification system. That’s an incredible achievement for Zaur and his team."

As for Dunne, he says he's up for the task and is relishing the opportunity to work within the organisation.

"I’ve been involved in the high performance department for the last 20 years of my life. It’s something that I’m used to being around. I’ve been on a GAA team for the last three and-a-half years, that’s been a big learning curve for me.

"I saw the role being advertised and thought 'that’s a role I’d like to have.'"

IABA CEO Fergal Carruth (left) and Bernard Dunne at today's unveiling at the National Sports Campus  Abbottstown. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IABA CEO Fergal Carruth described the recruitment phase over the past few weeks as an "intense, robust and rigorous interview process", adding that he was more than happy with the appointment.

"I think we're going to look back on this day as a really important one in the history of Irish boxing," he said. 

"We believe for many reasons he's come to the IABA at the right time for him and the association."

For Dunne, what attracted him to the position was simple.

"Look around you. We’ve won 55 medals at all age levels over the last two years internationally. I don’t know too many other sports that could boast that.

"It’s a dream job. Working in the sport that I’ve known all my life."

Vision of Excellence

The 37-year-old insists it wasn't a case of convincing the IABA he was the right man for the job, but presenting his vision for the direction of Irish boxing.

"The vision is achieving excellence. To inspire our athletes to achieve excellence on a consistent basis. That’s what I want to do.

"I do that by exposing them to the best in coaching support staff and facilities. When you seek excellence, along with that comes continued medal success."

The former WBA bantamweight champion will now share that vision Zaur Antia, head coach with the High Performance department and widely regarded as one of the best technical coaches on the planet.

"He’s shared his [vision] and we cross over so often, I’m so looking forward to working with the man."

Zaur Antia and Bernard Dunne during today's unveiling in Abbottstown. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

So where next? The talk at Thursday's unveiling was of 'heralding a new dawn' in Irish boxing. Putting to bed the Rio 2016 Games, Dunne and his team prepare for the European Championships this August.

This will be the first true indication of the direction the team are headed.

"My primary focus is to make sure I do what I can to facilitate the growth of these athletes. Both male and female. 

"I know what it’s like to be that boxer who’s hungry and who wants to learn. Who wants to grow. A big part of my job is facilitating that growth."

He added: "My main focus now is that we're concentrating on performance rather than outcomes. Let's look at the processes that are going on here, we're in the high performance unit and let's see if they can be developed and improved."

In Dunne, the IABA have a wealth of experience in a man who's reached the top of his field. Having worked with Jim Gavin's serial winner's, he's been exposed to an "environment where individuals are seeking excellence".

But there will be no real bedding-in process. Dunne and the High Performance department will be expected to hit the ground running. Investment, while cut this year by Sport Ireland, has been huge over the last number of years.

Expectations will remain high. Despite this, Dunne is unfazed by the outside pressure.

"Much like my boxing career, I tend to focus on what I’m doing and where I’m trying to get to. If you get distracted by other people, you’re head is not in the game.

"It’s going to be a great journey."