NORTHERN IRELAND’S boxers claimed a historic hat-trick of gold medals at the 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, yesterday.
Team captain Eamon O’Kane, Paddy Barnes and Paddy Gallagher all finished on top of the podium following impressive victories in the middleweight, light-flyweight and welterweight finals at the Talkatora Stadium.
But Tommy McCarthy and Steven Ward had to settle for silver after they lost their light-heavyweight and heavyweight duels to Callum Johnson of Scotland and England’s Simon Vallily.
Yesterday’s gold medal wins – two of which were earned at the expense of England – is a record haul in the sport for Northern Ireland and bridges a 16-year gap since Neil ‘Sinky’ Sinclair and Jimmy Webb won gold at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.
The triple gold and double silver medal haul also ensured that the North finished on top of the boxing medals table ahead of India and England respectively at a venue where threetime World champion Katie Taylor won her first AIBA World title in 2006.
European light-flyweight champion Barnes dethroned defending Commonwealth champion Jafet Uutoni of Namibia, winning 8-4 over three three-minute rounds to claim the North’s first gold of the Games in any sport.
Barnes, who won Ireland’s first gold since Dubliner Paul Griffin in 1991 at the 2010 European Senior Championships, was 3-1 up at the end of the first round. Uutoni pulled it back to 5-4 by the end of the second, but the Holy Family BC, Belfast, ace – a bronze medal winner at the Beijing Olympics – added another three points to his tally to seal an impressive win.
The 23-year-old Irish champion will defend his Irish title at the National Stadium in Dublin early next year and then all eyes will be on the 2011 World Championships and Olympic qualifiers in Baku, Azerbaijan, next autumn.
Barnes has his eyes on Baku and wants to finish on top of the podium there as well. “I rank all the medals together,” he said. “I’ve won the Commonwealth gold, I’m champion of Europe and next year, hopefully, the champion of the world. “I always felt I had the fight under control. I took the foot off the pedal a bit in the second round and he caught me with a few stupid shots, but even when the coaches told me I was only one up, I knew what I could do.”
Meanwhile, Belfast warrior Paddy Gallagher, who boxes out of the Gleann BC, was 4-1 up against Callum Smith after the first round, but the English welterweight levelled it at 5-5 at the end of the second. However, Gallagher, who was giving away at least four inches in height, blasted home another six points to seal a famous 11-6 verdict.
O’Kane, meanwhile, defeated England’s Anthony Ogogo, a former ‘Big Brother’ contestant, 16-4 over the three rounds. Speaking immediately after the bout, the emotional Immaculata BC Belfast middleweight, a bronze medal winner for Ireland at the 2008 European Championships in Liverpool, said he was thrilled.
“So many emotions at the minute,” O’Kane said. “Namaste, as they say here! Thanks to everyone who’s made me the boxer I am today. My wife and my child are my world. She said I’d get gold from the start.”
McCarthy never really got going in his final with Scottish light-heavyweight Johnson and was 6-1 in arrears at the bell for the end of the second. Johnson also took the final round 2-0. Heavyweight Ward, from the Monkstown club in Antrim, was stopped in the first round by Middlesbrough native Vallily.
Michael Hawkins and Stephen Friel were working Northern Ireland’s corner in Delhi.