After several embarrassments at recent Olympics, Ireland’s medal-winning boxers have made the country fall in love with the games again, writes Katie Galvin.
Though the beginning of the 29th Olympiad may have been overshadowed by China’s questionable human rights record and the Tibet crisis, the successes of coach Jimmy Walsh’s team of Irish boxers guaranteed that in the aftermath, all talk was of Irish boxing’s Famous Five.
Light-heavyweight and captain, Kenny Egan, was the first man in the ring against an opponent he had previously stopped on the 20 point rule, the Virgin Islands’ Julius Jackson. Egan did not disappoint, with the Neilstown man in dazzling form and in control for large portions of the match, against perhaps an easy opponent with the scoreline reflecting his dominance, winning 22-2.
Despite being beaten by the Hungarian three times in the last two years, the determined Joyce ensured Kate did not gain a fourth
The following day was all about ‘Triple J’, or rather light welterweight boxer, John Joe Joyce. The Athy man produced a remarkable performance – possibly his best yet – to see off Hungary’s Gyula Kate. Despite being beaten by the Hungarian three times in the last two years, the determined Joyce ensured Kate did not gain a fourth.
The perfect start by the Irish team continued in the Workers Indoor Arena as John Joe Nevin also advanced to the final sixteen. The Mullingar Bantamweight saw off opponent Abdelhalim Ourradi of Algeria in the tightest bout of the Irish preliminaries.
Ourradi, the 2007 All Africa Champion, put up a decent fight against the Mullingar teenager, however Nevin proved too strong gaining consecutive clean blows in the final two rounds to win the bout 9-4. Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes rounded off Irish boxing’s ‘Famous Five’, receiving byes into the final sixteen.
26-year-old Sutherland, in his Olympic debut, placed his stamp on his bout with Algeria’s Nabil Kassel connecting with some punishing right hooks, leaving his opponent on his knees in only the first round as he powered his way to the quarters.
The Dubliner’s success coincided with mixed fortunes for his teammates. Egan confidently saw off Turkey’s Muzafer Bahram, John Joe Nevin was out-experienced by the stronger Mongolian Badar-Uugan Enkhbat, while the heroic John Joe Joyce disappointingly exited the light welterweight competition on a countback.
Joyce and Dominican Republic boxer Felix Diaz finished the bout on eleven points a piece, before the judges’ decision. Like Sutherland, Paddy Barnes made his Olympic debut in star fashion, pummeling the Ecuadorian southpaw Jose Luis Meza with successions of right and left hooks leaving the score resounding 14-8, to earn his place alongside his compatriots in the quarters.
Sutherland placed his stamp on the bout with some punishing right hooks, leaving his opponent on his knees in only the first round
Now in the final eight, the remaining trio were one bout away from a guaranteed bronze medal; Ireland’s first in boxing since Michael Carruth in Barcelona in 1992. Egan produced a remarkably controlled performance to ensure his medal against Brazilian light heavyweight Washington Silva.
Despite failing to earn a single point in the second round against his extremely defensive opponent, a series of combinations to Silva’s body and head in the third allowed Egan open up a substantial lead in the third, before a single point in the fourth rounded off an 8-0 win.
Joining Egan on the podium would be Paddy Barnes, following his earlier victory against Poland’s Lukasz Maszczyk. The 21-year-old fought in a way that suggested experience beyond his years, his spectacular performance resulting in an 11-5 victory.
But the medal haul was not finished; Darren Sutherland produced a stunning fight to claim victory over Venezuela’s Alfonso Blanco. The Dubliner displayed a tactical masterclass as he defended and punched his way into the semi-finals with a score of 11-1.
The first bout of the semi-finals was Sutherland’s against his long time rival, Britain’s James DeGale. Despite having been beaten on four of five of their previous meetings, DeGale emulated John Joe Joyce ensuring Sutherland did not proceed to the Final with a 10-3 final score.
His defeat was followed by another frustrating defeat, this time for Paddy Barnes at the hands of China’s Shiming Zou. Barnes failed to register a single point in the 15-0 semi-final.
However, the success had not dried up completely, with team captain Ken Egan, lifting the Irish spirits with a commanding10-3 win over Britain’s Tony Jeffries to secure his place in the light heavyweight final against China’s Xiaoping Zhang.
Egan went into the final having registered 50 points in four bouts while only conceding seven.
Unfortunately, the captain was forced to settle for silver following a disappointing and controversial final, in which questions were raised over the scoring system that allowed the home town hero register several controversial points in an 11-7 victory. Despite this, the boxers returned to these shores clutching two bronzes and a silver medal, comprising Ireland’s entire medal haul form these Games.
All five boxers were beaten by the eventual winners of their divisions, in the process providing ample proof that with the proper backing, Ireland can prosper at any sport. As well as laying down the blueprint for the Irish Olympic Committee for future conquests across the board, the Irish boxer’s regained Irish pride aswell as the reigniting a love of the world’s oldest sport on these shores.