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Only way's up for Irish


Jason Quigley, Ireland. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

Jason Quigley, Ireland. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

Jason Quigley, Ireland. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

UNLIKE buses, two gold medals don't often come along together for Ireland in major international tournaments.

But when you have a team of Irish amateur boxers who hit like a bus and are slicker than an F1 machine, then no wonder there's a hint of disappointment that our medal haul of two gold and two silver from the European Boxing Championships in Belarus isn't even greater.

A team of 10 men went to Minsk intent on proving themselves the best in Europe. And, in a sport where a single punch, the slightest slip in concentration or a twist of bad luck can decide the outcome, to come home with four medals is a truly remarkable achievement. One that further underlines Ireland's growing dominance in global boxing circles.

When Gary Keegan and head coach Billy Walsh set up the High Performance training regime at the National Stadium 10 years ago, they created a wall of achievement which listed Ireland's major international medal winners.

As the elite squad put in punishing hours training, the wall has been a constant subliminal reminder of the pinnacle that's there to be reached.

The outstanding achievements of our boxing heroes means they're fast running out space on that wall. But the man with the paintbrush will be in action again this week.

As well as updating the statistics for John Joe Nevin (gold), Paddy Barnes (silver) and Michael Conlan (silver), he'll be adding the name of Jason Quigley (gold) to the senior roll of honour.

Before he travelled to Minsk, Walsh surveyed his team's prospects and, using his years of experience, weighed up Ireland's medal prospects. Factoring in the sort of bad luck that sees boxers drawn against favourites or reigning champions early in the competition, he reckoned we'd be doing well to win three medals.

The upgrade of two gold and two silver should put a broad smile on the faces of the mandarins at the Sports Council who have continued proof that in boxing at least the Irish taxpayers are getting plenty of bang for their buck.

To the uninitiated, our boxers make success seem easy. But these defining performances against Europe's toughest opposition have come from years of development and preparation.



Not just as members of the elite squad, but before that in their own club gyms with dedicated amateur coaches who set these athletes on the right road.

Each boxer is an individual with his own style and his own development programme. Walsh's triumph is that he and his coaching staff have perfected coaching and back-up systems that maximise the talents of each boxer.

Even so, bad luck can sometimes throw a spanner in the works. These finals weren't any different.

Light-heavyweight Joe Ward was favourite to win gold in Belarus but, while ahead on points in his opening bout, a clash of knees resulted in a serious injury that put him out of the competition.

Seán McComb (Holy Trinity, Belfast) was unlucky to meet the eventual lightweight gold medalist in his first bout. Heavyweight Tommy McCarthy (Oliver Plunkett, Belfast) lost his quarter-final bout to the eventual silver medalist.

Before Saturday's finals, we had the bad news that Paddy Barnes was declared unfit to box because of a broken nose that bled throughout his semi-final bout.

On balance, Paddy could as least consider himself lucky he hadn't been ruled out earlier because, as he's admitted, his nose had probably been broken in his first bout when he defeated John Ashley Williams (Wales) 3-0.

In the flyweight final Michael Conlan was matched with his nemesis, Andrew Selby (Wales), who'd beaten him on two previous occasions.

The 2-1 split decision this time will no doubt provide added motivation for Conlan ahead of the World Championships.

In sport, there's always the buzz of the first time you see a brilliant sports person in action.

With John Joe Nevin it was many years ago when he was a skinny kid in the National Stadium who seemed unhittable as he glided around the ring and picked off his opponents with lazer-accurate jabs. It was obvious that night that he was a potential international champion.



But he's added much more to his repertoire since then and on Saturday he put it all into action, including a final valedictory flash of his Mullingar Shuffle just before the final bell, against Mykola Butsenko (Ukraine).

In December, Quigley (Finn Valley BC, Donegal) won the European Under 23 title. Before this year's Irish National Senior Championships, Ken Egan told me Jason would make life very difficult for Irish Olympic team captain Darren O'Neill this year.

Egan was proved right. But Quigley's path to gold in Minsk is the stuff of glory. He beat the number two seed in the final but on the way, he had to take care of the reigning champion and the also the fourth seed.

As Billy Walsh says: "Jason showed his maturity in this tournament."

Arriving home with their four medals, Team Ireland can take satisfaction in a job well done.

But the team won't be resting on their laurels.

As Walsh points out: "We have an army of talent coming behind these guys. Boxers that the public hasn't heard of yet. They'll be keeping these guys on their toes."