THE boxing career of Olympic hero John Joe Nevin hung in the balance last night after he sustained a broken leg in a vicious assault by a gang of men at his Mullingar home.
The attack on Nevin, who won silver for Ireland at the London Olympics, has been linked to a personal dispute.
But it has raised fears that long-simmering tensions between a number of Traveller families in the midlands will erupt again.
Nevin, 25, was also badly beaten but the most serious injury is a badly fractured leg. His injuries were described as "severe but not life-threatening". He was brought to Mullingar General Hospital for emergency treatment and to stabilise his condition.
Doctors were then due to transfer him to Tullamore General Hospital for an operation on his leg at a specialised orthopaedic unit.
It's understood doctors have indicated it could be another three months before he can start rehabilitation.
Nevin's fame means he has become a target for attacks from jealous rivals. A gang damaged his BMW car and attacked his house in 2012.
Yesterday's attack occurred at about 10.30am at his home in the Ardleigh estate in Mullingar.
A number of men smashed their way into his home before carrying out the attack. It is not known if weapons were used.
In recent weeks a number of provocative messages were posted on social media pages.
Mullingar gardai were on full alert as members of Nevin's extended family rushed to the hospital.
John Joe Nevin turned professional last October and got his career in the paid ranks off to a winning start on St Patrick's Day. He beat Alberto Candelaria with a unanimous points decision.
At the launch of his professional career last October, Nevin was bullish about the future. "This is the next step for me. I've done everything I wanted to do in the amateur business. If I could change the colour of the Olympic medal I would, but that's done and now it's time to move on and hopefully bring back a world title to Ireland."
Yesterday's assault is a major setback for the young boxing star. Depending on the severity of the injuries, it could threaten his long-term future as a professional athlete.
There has long been a three-way feud between the Quinn, McDonagh and Nevin families from Mullingar, Co Westmeath. In 2008, tensions between two families turned violent when they engaged in a full-scale riot involving 200 people in the Dalton Park housing estate in the town. The row flared up after one Traveller family lost a large amount of cash following a bare-knuckle fight. The dispute, which had been running for years, involved petrol bombs, swords, golf clubs and other missiles.
However, it is understood that the attack on Nevin yesterday was prompted by a personal grudge against him – unrelated to previous disputes between rival clans.
Just last August there was another serious incident in Mullingar when violence erupted before a Mass in a cemetery. Gardai recovered Stanley knives, golf clubs, and hammers after more than 100 members of two rival Traveller families clashed at Ballyglass Cemetery.
About 2,000 people were in attendance at the Mass for Cemetery Sunday Devotions when the violence flared.
One elderly woman – who was not in the company of either family – received injuries when she was hit by a rock.
It is believed those involved in the disturbance live outside the Westmeath area but have relatives buried at the graveyard.
Gardai had to clear one of the families from the cemetery to restore calm and the garda helicopter was also deployed.
During the incident two other people were also injured, a man and a woman, both in their twenties, gardai said. Both were also taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
It is understood that a golf club was used during the melee.
A male aged in his twenties was later arrested by gardai and was last night detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, at Mullingar Garda Station.
He was released earlier today - and a file has been sent to the the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Last night, Nevin's US-based manager Tom Moran told the Sunday Independent: " I just got off the phone with John Joe and he should be headed into surgery shortly.
"His leg is broken in two places, so hopefully things will be clear after the doctors work on it."