Boxing: Walsh's fighting Irish descend on Moscow in search of medals
IRELAND'S nine-man squad are quietly confident of getting among the medals when the European Championships get under way at the Ice Palace in Moscow tomorrow and conclude on Sunday week.
The team, under chief Irish coach Billy Walsh, left their training quarters in the Olympic centre in Kiev on Tuesday for the Russian capital and went straight to the venue to get a feel of the place and soak up the atmosphere.
"The lads are in high spirits and are all fit and ready for the championships," said Walsh. "The standard of Irish boxing is so high across Europe, and indeed the world, just now that teams actually fear us, rather than the way it used to be -- the other way round.
"The team is a good blend of youth and experience and we are confident we will do very well. Nothing comes easy in major championships of this nature, particularly the Europeans which in many ways is tougher than the Olympics, but we've been there before and we have the talent to do well again."
Ireland's best hope will be Dublin lightheavyweight and team captain Ken Egan, a Beijing Olympics silver medallist, while Olympic lightflyweight bronze medallist Paddy Barnes from Belfast, Kilkenny's EU middleweight champion Darren O'Neill and 2008 World Youths gold medal winner Ray Moylett from Mayo at lightwelterweight are also good bets.
Bidding for medal glory too will be Dublin flyweight Declan Geraghty, Cavan bantamweight John Joe Nevin, Donegal featherweight Tyrone McCullough and the two Kildare reps, lightweight Eric Donovan and welterweight John Joe Joyce, all capable of a podium finish.
Egan, with a record 10 consecutive national senior titles, said: "Nothing is ever easy in the Europeans, and this year will be no exception, but we have a very formidable team and we should be able to get into the medals stage.
"Of course, the Russians will fancy their chances, especially on their home ground and it would be fair to say that anybody drawing a Russian will have their work cut out. But we are looking on the positive side. There is a great vibe in the squad and we all have been looking forward very much to this weekend."
One man who feels Ireland are on course to win three medals is Bernard Dunne, who will be working as an RTE analyst for the championships. The retired former world superbantamweight champion expects Egan, Barnes and Nevin to return with medals.
"This is a terrific team which includes two Olympic medallists and a world medallist," he said yesterday. "Egan, Barnes and Nevin have all proven they can box at the highest level. If Ireland can repeat the level of performance we showed at the Beijing Olympics, and again at last year's World Championships in Milan, then a trio of medals is not out of the question."
Missing from the original squad will be Clonmel heavyweight Con Sheehan, the current EU and Irish champion, who broke the thumb in his left hand at a tournament in Turkey last month.
Ireland has won five European medals this century, courtesy of bronze for Egan, Joyce, Andy Lee, Ross Hickey and Eamon O'Kane. Dublin featherweight Paul Griffin, now living in Australia, was the last Irish boxer to win European gold, in Gothenburg in 1991, followed by silver for Belfast middleweight Brian Magee in Minsk seven years later.
Besides Katie Taylor striking gold at the Europeans in 2005 and 2006, the best achievements among the men was in Dublin in 1939 when two Dubliners, flyweight Jimmy Ingle and featherweight Paddy Dowdall, left the newly-opened National Stadium with a gold medal apiece.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Brian Magee, now a professional and current European supermiddleweight champion, could be in line for a world title fight. His manager Pat Magee, unrelated, has asked the British Boxing Board to put pressure on the World Boxing Association to make him the No 1 contender.