Wexford People

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Wexford eyes turn to London

All WEXFORD EYES will turn towards London on Sunday as Olympians Adam Nolan and Gráinne Murphy swing into action there.

Swimmer Gráinne is due to fly to the English capital today ( Wednesday) ahead of competing in the 800 metres freestyle at the weekend, while welterweight Adam and the rest of the Irish boxing team - under the guidance of our own Billy Walsh - are making their way there from a training camp in Italy.

Much of the Model County will come to a halt on Sunday as people gather everywhere to cheer them on in their quest for Olympic glory. THIS IS his first major tournament, and Adam Nolan has already beaten the odds.

When Adam lands in London this week from the training camp in Italy along with his boxing colleagues, he will survey at first hand the Olympic Village which the world's supreme athletes will make their home over the coming weeks.

He will look back to the starting point as he tries to take it all in. Having passed out as a Garda in Templemore he was posted to Bray in 2008. He suddenly began to think of boxing again. His first thought was to pick up the 'phone and talk to Billy Walsh, his former under-age mentor and now national coach, who's taking the Irish boxers to the Olympics.

Billy told him he was in luck. What better place than Pete Taylor's little club by the harbour in Bray to get back into shape. The opportunity to work with one of the best boxing coaches in the country drew him back to the sport.

'A lot of credit has to go to the head coach, Pete Taylor. It was probably the best day's work ever getting stationed in Bray,' Adam said. 'It was lucky. I could have been stationed anywhere but I got Bray. So I said why not have a go once again. I put the gloves on and started a bit of boxing again.

'Katie being here as well was a big incentive to come down and take part. I was out of the ring since 2004, so I came down. Pete instilled great confidence and belief. He made me a better fighter all round over the last three to four years,' he added.

'I've been going from strength to strength over the last year to 18 months, having won the two Seniors and then secuing qualification. So a lot has changed over the last 18 months. I have Pete to thank for all of this.'

Adam did not have any major ambition to make it as big as this when he decided to return to the sport. But Pete Taylor saw talent in the gangly Wexford youth and made it his mission to unlock that potential.

'After I won the second Seniors Pete told me he's not interested in winning the Seniors, he's interested in qualifying for the Olympics. I looked at him. But Pete always had confidence in me.'

Little was expected from Nolan at the final Olympic qualifier in Trabzon last April, but he went in the belief that he could make a splash. Winning his second Irish Elite title against stiff competition had boosted his self-confidence.

'We had a brutal training camp in Ukraine. The training was unbelievable. The food was not good but it toughened me up. It hardened my will. We were out there for nearly two weeks and the spars were gruelling. The food was very average, the facilities were poor, and I think that all stood to me when I went out to Trabzon.

'It was the longest camp I've ever been on. Of course you have doubts in certain situations. I was doubting myself at times, was I good enough to be here. But that training camp in Ukraine was vital.'

Like his Bray and Ireland team-mate Katie Taylor, Nolan has strong faith in God and learned his skills from his dad, John.

'My father and Martin O'Connor were the two coaches responsible for me donning a pair of boxing gloves at the age of nine in The Ballagh club.

'I often remember I couldn't wait for Friday night to come along because my mother wouldn't allow me down of a school night and I used to kick and roar.

'It's nice to be able to repay my father because he put a lot into me down through the years, along with my brother Darren, who is so often in my corner, and sister Leanne, who so often reminds me she has an All-Ireland club camogie medal. Also my mother Ann for all the quality food which has helped me so much. I cannot forget my bosses and colleagues in Bray Garda Station who have been wonderful to me.'

When Adam returned from the qualifiers with the gold medal the people of The Ballagh came out in their hundreds to welcome him home. He was paraded in an open-top sports car as hundreds celebrated his Olympic qualification. They also came from neighbouring parishes and other areas of the county.

The Ballagh folk have taken Adam to their hearts. They have held special fundraisers to help him along the way. They will be ducking and weaving and delivering right and left jabs as they watch their young hero become the first sportsperson from the parish to compete in the Olympic Games.

'I'll never forget that night whatever happens between now and the Olympics. That homecoming will always stick with me. The support was immense. It was like 1996 when Martin Storey brought the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the parish.'

Words cannot describe how he felt over in Trabzon when he qualified. 'Every amateur boxer's pinnacle is to qualify for the Olympic Games and the last few months have been special. It's a boyhood dream. It's something I thought I could only dream of. It's only natural that I'll want to win a fight, then another, and then a medal. If I go there and concentrate on what is happening I know anything can happen.

'As in Trabzon, the purple and gold flag will be with me as will all the good wishes from home along with my Bray club colleagues and colleagues in the local Garda Station. It's marvellous to have myself and Katie (Taylor) represent a small club in the Olympics. Let's hope myself and Billy will have reason to play "Dancing At The Crossroads" in the dressing-room.'

The Ballagh is awash with signage and posters proclaiming their hero. It takes something special to bring out the best in a small rural parish.

Martin O'Connor, who has been part of Adam's progress, going hand in hand with his father, John, was not found wanting. Once Adam won the elusive gold medal and qualification for the Olympic Games, Martin and his small committee immediately set in motion a homecoming.

This matched their own Martin Storey's return with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1996. It was something special as hundreds of people turned out to welcome home their favourite son.

Martin, so long the voice of boxing in The Ballagh, immediately set about forming a committee to raise money and give Adam some extra spending power on his travels to the training camp in Italy, before landing in London this week for the most important part, the Olympic Games.

Martin doesn't do emotion. He simply loves the sport of boxing. He was proud of Adam's achievements, having helped him put on the gloves for the first time as a five-year-old. Now he wanted to give him a fitting send-off. This he managed to achieve with various fundraising events which showed the wonderful generosity of the people of The Ballagh and surrounding areas.

Martin will be a proud man when he watches Adam's first fight on Sunday next, July 29.

Of added Wexford interest is that Billy Walsh will be in Adam's corner.

Another Wexford connection is that Dean Walsh from the local C.B.S. is in Italy as one of Katie Taylor's sparring partners, truly a wonderful experience for the young Wexford boxer as Katie is one of the country's great gold medal hopes.

The sports people of Wexford will also look in with great expectations of swimming hope, Gráinne Murphy, on Saturday when she takes her place in the 400m individual medley.