Monday 21 August 2017

Joyce debut well worth waiting for

Ideal opening day as Donnelly gets Irish off to a flier

Ireland’s David Oliver Joyce exchanges punches with Andrique Allisop of Seychelles during their lightweight bout at the Rio Olympics last night. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland’s David Oliver Joyce exchanges punches with Andrique Allisop of Seychelles during their lightweight bout at the Rio Olympics last night. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

David Oliver Joyce made up for lost time with an impressive Olympic debut in the Riocentro last night.

Making it two wins from two for the Irish, the St Michael's, Athy lightweight earned a unanimous points decision against Andrique Allisop of the Seychelles to set up a showdown against No 2 seed, Azerbaijan's Albert Selimov, tomorrow.

Ireland’s Steven Donnelly has Algeria’s Zohir Kedache on the back foot. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland’s Steven Donnelly has Algeria’s Zohir Kedache on the back foot. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"It's been a long time coming," smiled the 29-year-old, who took eight attempts in qualifying tournaments to finally reach an Olympics after narrowly missing Beijing and London.

"I've been waiting nine years to step into that ring and perform to my best. The last couple of days, the nerves started kicking in. . . when you find out the draw and that. Today, I was decent enough. But I'll step it up for the next day.

"Making your debut is always the toughest part of an Olympic Games."

Rangy

He was always in control against a rangy opponent who, apart from a longer reach, had little to cope with Joyce's relentless pressing style. Allisop was cut above his left eye in the second round, gesturing furiously that the cut had been made by the Irishman's left elbow.

Joyce did not deny it.

"It got a little bit messy in parts," he revealed. "I was hitting him some cracking shots and then he was starting to drop the head. I was getting a little bit too close to him then so it started to get messy. I had to step back and pick my shots again.

"Fair dues to him, he took some heavy shots off me. He was wrecked at the end of it."

Joyce believes he can have the measure of Selimov now on the basis of his knowledge.

"I know what to expect," he stressed. "We sparred him in camp in Azerbaijan a couple of weeks ago so he knows what I'm going to bring to the game. It's going to be a tough one, but the camp is buzzing. We're all here to go right to the very end.

"No matter who we meet along the way, we're just going to push them aside and go forward."

Earlier, Kelly Clarkson's What doesn't kill you reverberated around pavilion six of the Riocentro as Steven Donnelly got Ireland's boxers off to the flier they had craved.

A prescient choice too for the Ballymena welterweight, who fervently believes he can go all the way here on a redemptive journey from the personal chaos that followed his sending home from the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Donnelly's technical skills simply set too many puzzles for Algeria's Zohir Kedache, his superiority reflected in an unanimous verdict from the judges.

"It's good to go in and get the first one out of the way," he reflected after three composed rounds against an opponent quickly reduced to chasing refuge in windmill rights and lefts.

Donnelly has spoken openly about "going off the rails" after that expulsion from Delhi, a spiralling process in which he was lost to boxing for almost two years, sinking into a blur of "drinking and fighting and falling out with everybody who was close to me".

A member of All Saints Boxing Club, of which actor Liam Neeson is a former president, Donnelly found eventual redemption in the persistence of club coach Gerry Hammill.

For it was Hammill who drove to his house one day in a final effort to persuade him away from the ruinous path he was on, one in which his own sense of shame even had Donnelly avoiding direct contact with his own father.

Hammill had him apologise to club members for his behaviour and, by late 2011, Donnelly was entered in the Ulster seniors. After a bye straight into the final, he won the title in just 30 seconds of ruthless destruction.

Zaur Antia had identified Donnelly at 17 as Olympic medal material and the Irish head coach punched the air with a subtle left jab yesterday once he'd safely negotiated the final round against a dangerous, albeit limited, opponent.

"There was pressure before it," admitted Donnelly in the mixed zone. "It's the Olympic Games."

The 27-year-old admitted he'd been wrestling with nerves beforehand, reflecting: "Yeah, very nervous. It was okay. I get nervous before every fight, as do all fighters, but it's how you handle it.."

He certainly looked accomplished throughout against an opponent who came to the arena smiling and looked keen to provoke Donnelly into recklessness in round one by dropping his fists to waist level and rolling his eyes. The temptation to lunge forward was resisted, however, Donnelly's cleaner shots putting him into an early lead on all three judges' cards.

Bombs

"He was keeping his feet static and throwing big bombs," he explained. "I just had to watch and not hold my feet too much, get in and get out, fast work-rate, use my jab."

Aware that he was in arrears, Kedache came out aggressively for the second, but his shots were largely wild and imprecise, allowing Donnelly to just pick and move with sufficient authority for some Brazilians in the crowd to start chanting "Irish boy, Irish boy, Irish boy."

The final round was all about avoiding trouble for the Irishman, something he managed with consummate ease.

"I can go all the way," Donnelly declared, having name-checked the likes of Andy Murray, Tyson Gay and Michael Phelps as fellow competitors he has "met" in the athletes' village.

That said, he did not sound like a man with his head in the clouds.

"You can't let that (village life) get in the way of your performance," he stressed. "You have to cut it out it out of your mind..

"But we're used to this experience now. We know what to do I believe in myself. It's a tough division. I know I have Mohammed Rabii if I get to the medal stages, and I believe that I can beat him."

Before all that, he will need Antia to do his usual meticulous homework on Mongolia's Tuvshinbat Byamba, who Donnelly now faces on Thursday for a place in the quarter-finals.

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