Nevin pro U-turn looks unlikely this time
Irish camp unhappy with timing of the decision with worlds around the corner, writes John O'Brien
While the immediate future of John Joe Nevin, Ireland's most decorated male amateur boxer, remained clouded in uncertainty last night, there is a growing feeling among those in Irish boxing's high performance unit that the Olympic silver medallist from Mullingar has fought his last amateur bout for Ireland and will sign a professional contract with a US-based promoter as early as next week.
According to a source close to the unit, Nevin did not report for duty at a scheduled 10-day pre-World Championship training camp in Castlebar last Tuesday and subsequently informed his head coach, Billy Walsh, that he was joining the professional ranks.
As to Nevin's prospects of being part of the Ireland squad that travels to Kazakhstan next month, the source said it was "extremely unlikely".
This isn't the first time, however, that Nevin has flirted so intently with the professional game and some faint hopes remained that he might yet stay the course for the Rio Olympics.
"Listen, there's a new name comes on the radar every week," Brian McKeown, Nevin's Cavan-based coach, said yesterday. "Until there's something in writing and it's signed, sealed and delivered, he's not a professional yet."
Nevin, of course, has previous form in this regard. The talk about turning professional stretches back to 2008 when he returned from the Beijing Olympics as a 19-year-old bantamweight of considerable promise. Five weeks before London, he told Walsh he was withdrawing from the Games. And then, following his silver-medal performance, he agreed a pro deal with Amir Khan's Super Fight Promotions, going so far as to appear with Khan on an RTE chat show.
Each time, Nevin ultimately ended up back where he started but privately Irish boxing officials are of the belief that this time there is no turning back.
"In fairness, if he had aspirations to go to Kazakhstan, he should have been at that camp," said one. "It makes it look all the more that he's going to go and that's disappointing for everybody concerned with Irish amateur boxing. The timing couldn't have been worse."
While not expressly Nevin's doing, it is precisely the timing of the current saga that has caused most disruption and, unquestionably, irritated some within the high performance set-up. As of yet, no steps have been taken to identify a replacement for Kazakhstan, but that could be as easily down to the lack of strength of depth in the bantamweight division as to fading hopes that Nevin might yet perform another U-turn. Even accepting that unlikely scenario, it's not certain his World Championships place would be guaranteed.
For certain, Nevin's loss to the system will be keenly felt. The high performance unit may be a slick, well-oiled machine, but the pit of talent isn't so bottomless that a fighter of Nevin's ability can be easily replaced. For a start, Walsh's persistent ambition to haul Ireland to the summit of European boxing nations by 2016 might have to be revised. The shame is that Nevin would be just 27 reaching Rio and a likely warm favourite for the gold medal that so grievously eluded him in London last year.
Yet Walsh can console himself with the knowledge that little more could be done to persuade Nevin to remain in the fold. Add his Irish Sports Council grant to the salary he received from his World Series of Boxing contract and other add-ons and it is thought Nevin was earning not too shy of €100,000 per annum. His earning power might have increased with a guaranteed place in the newly constituted AIBA Professional Boxing (APB), a development that wouldn't have compromised Nevin's Olympic eligibility.
In sweeping to gold at the European Championships in Minsk in June, however, Nevin just didn't cement his reputation as the world's best amateur bantamweight, he alerted the sharks of the pro game to his lavish potential once more.
McKeown has been around the game for decades and isn't prone to hyperbole. "The offers just kept coming in," he said. "From Germany, from the UK and from America. The figures mentioned are mind-boggling."
In the end money spoke, as it so often does, and while those in the amateur boxing will miss him, Nevin will still depart with their blessing.