Wednesday 21 February 2018

Vincent Hogan: Irish ring masters deserve to be feted at the top table

The trouble with Joe Ward's easy smile and baby-soap complexion is it's hard to know if he understands just how good that he can be. He doesn't so much fight an opponent as use them for recreation. He seems to box as if it's no more than an early-morning stretch, easing the day open for other things.

The kid is just 17, but, already, basking in an aura of virtual invincibility.

For Ray Moylette, the trouble is somewhat different. Gerry Hussey's playful jibe on Saturday, maybe, went to the heart of it.

"The way things are going Ray, you'll soon be ranked in the top eight in Ireland," joked the Irish team's psychologist of our new European light-welterweight champion.

You see, before he flew to Turkey, Moylette was maybe third in line of the light-welters being funded in the High Performance gym on the South Circular Road. Ross Hickey's recent decision to join the army took him out of the critical 16-week preparatory window for the Europeans. And Phil Sutcliffe's injured hand meant that he, too, was indisposed.

So, Moylette, beaten in his opening fight at this year's National Championships, dug out his passport and went off to write a fairytale.

Some people get uneasy about the number of boxers currently in receipt of Sports Council funding at the National Stadium. Just now, the figure is 23 and the Olympic Council of Ireland has questioned the logic of three and, in some instances, four boxers from the same weight division being carded.

Moylette's story was their answer.

Many of yesterday's newspapers didn't trouble themselves with a single line on Ireland's two new European champions. What with Rory McIlroy, Wimbledon, The Curragh and a great raft of GAA activity, space was -- naturally -- tight. And, face it, boxing medals have become humdrum.

Having finished second in the European medals table in Moscow last year, Ireland placed third this time round, despite travelling with an almost entirely different team. As an Olympic year looms, the nation's eyes are thus drawn to a familiar place for distraction.

Billy Walsh was in Malaga yesterday, hoping to find a bar showing Wexford's Leinster championship game with Carlow.

No sooner had he touched down from Turkey on Saturday than his wife was in the arrivals hall handing him a boarding card. "I was feeling a bit like Tom Hanks in that film 'Airport'," chuckled Billy down a phone line.

Walsh has been the one constant in a programme that outperforms all other funded sports in this country. Since Gary Keegan set the High Performance foundations in place nine years ago with Walsh as his head coach, Irish amateur boxing has all but re-invented itself.

Where previously our representatives were inclined to stumble out of European rings in the condition of survivors from a plane wreck, they are now seen as everyone's short straw.

Moylette, a former world youths champion, lost his first fight at last year's Europeans in Moscow by a single point. His German opponent then lost by the same margin to the eventual gold medallist.

And, maybe more than the medals, that kind of story identifies the altitude at which Irish amateur boxing now operates.

Last Tuesday in Turkey, six members of the team boxed for medals. When only two came through unscathed, Walsh admits to a brief outburst of depression. "Just thought the gods were against us," he says.

John Joe Nevin, Willie McLoughlin and Michael Conlon had all gone desperately close and few doubted that, had Paddy Barnes been with them, he too would have been a contender for gold.

In any other sport, this kind of arithmetic wouldn't be believable. In boxing, it is reduced to the everyday.


Until now, maybe the biggest media stir caused by Ward was his high-profile dethroning of Ken Egan as national light-heavyweight champion. Egan, an Olympic silver medalist in Beijing, is assured of a place in history as one of Ireland's greatest amateur boxers. But Ward's emergence means that he will, almost certainly, have to move to another weight division if he hopes to box at the London Olympics. For the light-heavy belt may be Ward's for as long as he wants it now.

On Saturday's flight home from Ankara, he reminded Walsh how he has been boxing internationals since the age of 13. Ward was beaten by a Russian in the European schoolboys, before winning gold at both the world juniors (U-16) and world youths (U-18).

Technically, he's young enough to fight at the European Youths this August, though that's unlikely to happen now. "Just a phenomenal young man," chuckles Walsh of the Moate kid.

Success, maybe, comes harder to Moylette. That said, his defeat at the National Championships had to be asterisked by the knowledge that he'd just had the cast removed from a broken hand. Still, if he had not been training full-time in a structured programme, he would not have been in Turkey last week.

Maybe all you need to know for now is that every single funded boxer on the South Circular Road is a potential medallist at major championships and we will swarm them with our attention again as London begins to loom.

But, for now, their excellence is just a muffled trumpet line under the din of a country aghast at empty pockets.

Rest assured it will grow louder.

moore outburst not what galway requires

"It was definitely premeditated," said Cathal Moore on last Wednesday's 'The Committee Room' as the extraordinary fall-out to our story on Galway hurling blazed away relentlessly.

No Cathal, it wasn't. Three former greats answered questions in entirely separate interviews and were found to share some common ground. That simple, that random. Seeing an agenda where none exists is hardly the answer to Galway's needs.

Irish Independent

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