By Caolite de Barra
International competition is fast approaching and with dates in the diary for the Youth European and World Championships, national teams are facing the task of selecting a squad for the competition. The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association IMMA have already completed this process following the announcement of their cadet squad and with an unexpected and generous offer from UFC superstar Conor McGregor to cover all the team’s expenses.
Conor is sponsoring the entire Irish youth team to participate in the 2021 IMMAF Youth MMA Championships, it was revealed at the weekend. IMMAF’s 2021 Youth MMA Championships for twelve to eighteen-year-olds takes place in Bulgaria at the EFE Marinela from 29 July – 1 August. Conor is paying the entry fees and for the accommodation and flights of 27 youths and 20 coaches so that they can take part.
McGregor commented in a message to IMMA: “Wishing the Irish squad the very best of luck in their quest at the world championships this year! From the fighters to the coaches, I know the future of our fighting nation is in excellent hands. Fight with the pride of the Emerald Isle, team! We are all with you. Good luck!”
The team’s heartwarming reaction was captured live as they learned of McGregor’s sponsorship.
IMMAF President Kerrith Brown said: “It’s fantastic news for all the athletes, coaches and the Irish MMA community that Conor has shown his passion for the sport in this way and is helping pave the way for the next ‘Conor’. We at IMMAF are appreciative of Conor’s support of grassroots athlete development and his demonstration of support for John Kavanagh’s work in the MMA community, as President of the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association. The value of this endorsement extends beyond the money in terms of the focus and sense of purpose it gives to the team. This is what IMMAF is all about, working in communities to deliver value from MMA for social good.”
Ireland is one of the most competitive nations in IMMAF competition at both junior and senior level. At the 2019 Youth World Championships in Rome, Ireland brought the second-largest squad to the competition. The squad walked away from the World Championships with a haul of eight medals, consisting of two gold, three silver and three bronze. Their success cemented their position as one of the top nations competing at IMMAF events, something the nation will be hoping to continue in the coming competitions.
At the last world championships in 2019, the Irish youth team ranked 6th place in the medals table with 9 medals, out of a pool of 269 participants from 26 countries and a top 10 dominated largely by state sponsored national teams. The USA placed number 1.
Following the squad session on June 7th, the following athletes were selected for Ireland’s cadet squad.
|Taylor De Khors||Team Ryano|
|Tadhg Gannon||Team Ryano|
|Flyweight||Emmerson Kelly||Team Ryano|
|Bantamweight||Ben Harding||Full Power|
|Atomweight||Lennon Wade||Team Ryano|
|Strawweight||Karl Malone||SBG Charlestown|
|Nathan Flanagan||SBG Portarlington|
|Bantamweight||Brandon Blake||SBG Naas|
|Sean Brazil||Team Ryano|
|Strawweight||Ben Mahon||SBG Charlestown|
|Charlie Stone||SBG Charlestown|
|Flyweight||Luke Williamson||SBG Cork|
|FouFou Fares||SBG Cork|
|Alex Keogh||SBG Naas|
|Eoghan Masoliver||Team Evolve|
|Leah Bennett||Full Power|
|Featherweight||Louise Brady||MMA Cork|
|Bernie Ward||SBG Tullamore|
|Eoin Hennessy||Team Ryano Waterford|
|Morgan Clements||Team Ryano OMMA|
|Welterweight||Max Lally||SBG Naas|
|Jordan Scully||SBG Tullamore|
|Middleweight||Marco Cardillo||SBG Clonmel|
|Fionn O’Rourke||SBG Cork|
The squad boasts a strong mix of fighters from gyms across the country. Amongst the squad are 2019 Competitors Karl Malone, FouFou Fares, Fionn O’Rourke, Karl Malone, Ben Mahon, Alex Keogh who all secured their spot in the team for the upcoming Championships.
Speaking on Ireland’s selection process, the National team coach and Team Ryano Head Coach Andy Ryan with the assistance of other members has put a team of coaches together that helped choose the squad that would represent Ireland at the Worlds.
“Myself as national team coach with the help and support of Liam Óg Griffin put together a coaching squad of high-level coaches under the guidance of Philip Mulpeter. All athletes were tested in all ranges of MMA to make sure they were up to the level we expect at these world championships.”
The coaching squad features a familiar name in Danni Neilan. In 2017, Neilan took home a silver medal at the World Championships so has a great level of understanding in regards to the level of competition that is at these Championships.
“We had great support from team coaches and the national coaches with the team training every week at different locations in Ireland. I’m super excited to see the future of the sport grow and I’ll be there to support the whole team in Bulgaria.”
“A big thank you to Sara, Aisling and Marlene for the huge amount of admin needed for this event and to the coaching team led by Philip Mulpeter, Danni Neilan, Alan McCormack, Nerijus Gulbinas and Sergey Pikulskiy, for the time and expertise.”
Like all athletes and coaches, Ireland Head Coach Andy Ryan was very grateful for sponsorship from McGregor, telling MMAIreland.ie, “This gesture by Conor has come at a time when Irish MMA needed it most”.
Following a dormant 2020 that left many amateur athletes without competition and gyms hit with financial straints. The team can now fully focus on the task ahead in preparing for the upcoming campaign without the worry of finances. The countdown is on for the Ireland cadet team to get back to work in the cage and compete at the highest level of amateur MMA again with their eyes firmly set on taking home another haul of medals in 2021.