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Saturday 16 December 2017

Boxers united by Common purpose

Eamonn Sweeney

It now seems that Irish amateur boxing is so strong that we don't even need to deploy a full international team to outshine England, one of the major forces at world level, in a major championships. Six counties is enough.

The Northern Irish boxing team's achievement in topping the medals table at the Commonwealth Games is something nobody saw coming. Their haul of three golds and two silvers -- England garnered two golds and three silvers -- shows that the rising tide in Irish amateur boxing continues to lift all boats.

Light-flyweight Paddy Barnes's victory was hardly unexpected, as the reigning European champion and Olympic bronze medallist from Beijing he was perhaps the class act of the entire boxing programme. But the other two gold medallists graphically displayed why amateur boxing is THE success story of Irish sport.

Middleweight Eamon O'Kane had a comfortable 16-4 final victory over the highly touted English prospect Junior Agogo, who was good enough to defeat home hero, Olympic and World bronze medallist Vijender Singh in the semi-final. This isn't O'Kane's first major medal. Three years ago, he won a bronze in the European Championships, but he is in the odd position of being a world-class boxer who is only number three in his own country.

That's because he's in the same division as Kilkenny's Darren O'Neill, silver medallist in this year's European Championships, and Donegal's immensely promising Jason Quigley, gold medallist and best boxer of the tournament in last year's European under 19s, who comfortably beat O'Kane in this year's national semi-final.

Belfast welterweight Paddy Gallagher, whose final win over England's Callum Smith was one of the upsets of the tournament, could only make the quarter-finals in the Irish championships where former world junior champion Ray Moylett and EU bronze medallist Philip Sutcliffe rule the roost. In fact, it's probably more difficult to become an Irish champion than a Commonwealth one in boxing at the moment.

This is not to detract from the achievement of the Northern Irish boxers. You have to go back to 1994 for the last time they struck Commonwealth gold in the ring. But it does say something about the achievement of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, who continue to prosper even after a trying year spent enduring the bullying tactics of the self-important apparatchiks from the Sports Council.

It was a great Games all round for the North. Their total of ten medals -- three golds, three silvers and four bronzes -- has only been surpassed once, in 1986 when they won 15. As well as the five boxing medals, there were two in cycling, two in shooting (stop sniggering down the back) and one in lawn bowls. Yet this achievement seemed to pass largely unremarked down here.

We're very fond of making that old complaint that across the channel Irish sportsmen are claimed as British when they win and Irish when they lose. But is our failure to celebrate genuine Irish victories in the Commonwealth Games any better?

Hopefully, we won't disgrace ourselves altogether by finding some excuse not to give Graeme McDowell the Irish sports personality of the year.

Sunday Independent

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