When Bernard Dunne signed on as high performance director of Indian boxing a couple of weeks ago, he knew that expectations would be high. A former professional boxing world champion - he won the WBA super bantamweight title in 2009 - Dunne has also served as the high performance director of the Ireland amateur boxing federation and had led his team to two medals including a gold at the Tokyo Olympics. With Indian boxing winning just a solitary medal in the Games, much will be expected of the 42-year-old who is expected to serve in his new role at least until the Paris Games.
But Dunne is keeping expectations low. He isn’t targeting specific medals for one. Dunne makes it very clear that there are no quick fixes to India’s modest results at the world level – at least in men’s boxing (India has won three bronze medals and a silver at the world championships in the last 5 years) .
“The first reason (why results are modest) is that the standard of boxing at the world level is extremely high. Nothing is easy at the level of boxing these guys are competing at. To expect that you can go and just get medals is just fanciful. What we can do and what I’ll be focusing on for the next couple of years is allowing my athletes to get the best out themselves. That’s all I want. I want them to maximise what they can perform. That’s the only thing they can control. If they can do that, the results will come by themselves,” he says.
“The basic thing is getting the processes right. It’s about getting the little pieces to connect. I don’t have to teach these guys how to box. They are already at a really high level. What I need to do is increase the percentages of everything that they are doing,” he says.
Dunne isn’t expecting dramatic changes. “One goal would be to get these athletes five percent better in every aspect of training. If we can make these athletes five percent better, it is a huge jump. What we are particularly trying to do is get some consistency. We have to get these athletes to understand themselves. I need them to know what they are going to impose on the opponent. That’s where I work from. The first step is to know what our strengths are,” he says.
Dunne is confident there are plenty of strengths in Indian boxing. He’s been in Patiala for the last couple of weeks with the senior men’s team and he likes what he’s seen. “They are hugely talented, amazingly hard workers and eager to learn. They have been approaching me. We have been sitting down and having discussions around their profiles and styles. We are speaking about what’s working for them and what they’d like more of from themselves,” he says.
While he’s working directly with the Indian team for the first time, he’s been able to observe them before. “India and Ireland have had many training camps together. We’ve been able to train together in Germany, Italy and Ireland,” he says. While he only got to see the frontline Indian boxers then, he’s got a better idea of the Indian bench now after the time he’s spent in Patiala. What he’s observed has him optimistic. “You have to look at the teams that aren’t going to the Asian Championships, and you think these guys can be really something. There’s so much talent in this group. It’s hard not to see it. I’ve seen the hunger in this group. These are the kind of people I want to work with. If I can lead them in the right way, I hope I can lead success back in India,” he says.
Dunne’s goal, he says, will be to ensure the boxers on the bench get the opportunities he thinks they deserve. He’s heading to the Asian Championships with a second-string team (World champion \ Nikhat Zareen along with fellow Commonwealth Games gold medallists Amit Panghal and Nitu Ghanghas are giving the continental showpiece a miss).
His purpose for now is simply to observe. “I’ve just been trying to see what kind of challenges these boxers have in the system. I’m talking with the support staff. I’m trying to see how you can make these challenges better. That’s my job. Athletes are the centre of everything we do. They are the ones that go into the ring and do the hard work. Our job is simply to let them be the best you can be.
“At the Asian championships, I’m going to look to see performance of course but I’ll also look at how they prepare. How they get ready for each bout. I’m just trying to understand the process they are following. I’m not coming in and making big changes. It’s just observing and making small tweaks. I don’t think we need to make big changes,” he says.