NEXT to world titles, which are well split up nowadays anyway, European championships have generally been regarded as the most prestigious prizes to be won in professional boxing. Yet here's a fighting fact that may surprise some. Up to last year, only eight Irish boxers were ever crowned European champions. Not a very proud record, is it?
But in the past two months we have added three more. Brian Magee's brilliant capture of the European super-middleweight title in Denmark last weekend lines him up alongside light-welterweight Paul McCloskey and middleweight Matthew Macklin.
Even if Macklin was born in Birmingham, he calls himself a proud Irishman. And why not, with a father who comes from Roscommon and a mother from Tipperary. Matthew played hurling at underage level for Ballingarry and the Premier County before concentrating on his boxing career. And he won the Irish middleweight title five years ago. So he's ours, OK?
Then there's Cavan's Andy Murray as European Union lightweight champion. Even though that's a lower grade title, he's ready to step up to challenge for the full European prize as soon as the call comes.
And throw into the mix Bernard Dunne, Andy Lee, Martin Lindsay, Martin Rogan and the three Hyland brothers from Tallaght -- all of them well placed in the EBU ratings and capable of adding to our title haul.
Magee's upset win over Mads Larsen was particularly worthy as he had to go to his opponent's hometown to snatch the title and, as someone who has been on the receiving end of some dubious decisions in the past, he made sure nothing was left to chance.
The Belfast veteran floored Larsen twice in the fifth round, twice more in the sixth, and crumbled the Dane to the canvas just after the start of the seventh to force a stoppage.
"I knew at this stage of my career how important this fight was," said Magee, who will be 35 in June. "I was fighting for my life, my livelihood in there against Larsen.
"The whole of last year was a nightmare for me and now I'm at the other end of the spectrum, winning the European title."
Co-manager Pat Magee (no relation) said Brian might have a couple of voluntary defences before going for a world title.
"Two of the champions are based in Europe, the WBA champion Dimitri Sarrison and the WBO champion Robert Stielglitz, and I'm sure we could do business with them," he observed.
"I've already had calls from British promoters showing an interest in Brian. He has opened up a whole new world for himself. He's never boxed as well in his life. He's a different man now."
Ireland's European Champions
Rinty Monaghan, flyweight, 1949-50.
John Kelly, bantamweight, 1953-4.
Freddie Gilroy, bantamweight, 1959-60.
Charlie Nash, lightweight, 1979-Mar 80 and Dec 80-81.
Barry McGuigan, featherweight, 1983-5.
Ray Close, super-middleweight, 1993.
Damaen Kelly, flyweight, 2000.
Bernard Dunne, super-bantamweight, 2006-7.
Matthew Macklin, middleweight, 2009 to date.
Paul McCloskey, light-welterweight, 2009 to date.
Brian Magee, super-middleweight, 2010.