John Joe Nevin and Team Ireland arrive home with medal haul
IT was quite simply the best birthday present a boxer could hope for.
With a haul of gold and silver dangling around their necks, they arrived back to a melodious medley of fluttering flags, shouting children, banners, club colours and ecstatic kin.
"I couldn't ask for better," said John Joe Nevin after marking his 24th birthday in flying style as the bantamweight boxed his way to victory at the 40th European Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
In amongst the bevy of delighted supporters at Dublin Airport, there was one little fan wearing a green London 2012 Olympic Qualifier t-shirt waiting to be swept up in the arms of the 'Boxer of the Championship'.
As his two-year-old son Martin eagerly got to grips with his gold medal, Nevin openly confessed he had went out there with something to prove after his fall off the training regime resulted in a lost fight.
"To get home with the family is the main thing," he said, surrounded by his mother Winnie, father Martin, brothers, sisters and everyone who travelled from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, on a mini-bus, after their celebrations had went on until 5am.
Nearby, his fellow gold medallist, Jason Quigley (22), bruises blossoming around his eyes, quipped that he felt "success breeds success" as he had battled to keep up with the Olympic medallists on his team.
"You just have to follow them or you are going to be forgot about. I had to keep the head down and keep focused," said the soft spoken man from Stranorlar, Co Donegal after a few punishingly-hard fights.
His father Conor Quigley, with his wife Muriel, daughters Holly and Jade, amid a sea of the yellow and green Finn Valley boxing club jackets, said they were "over the moon".
"It is his whole life - he is a top class athlete," said his proud father and coach of the middle weight 75kg champion "They are boxing the best boxers in the world so it has to be his life."
After landing his third European championship medal, the father confessed he watched the match at home alone. "I chased everyone else out of the house" he said. "It is very hard to watch when there is a crowd of people. It is a tough business."
And, next up for the youngster, well, the father confessed the Rio Olympics would be on everybody's mind.
"We'll sit down and focus and concentrate on his future and there are no guarantees on anything. We'll take it a day at a time," he said, ahead of planned celebrations in Finn Valley tonight (monday).
A bemused Brian McKeown, John Joe's coach, told how the "exceptional lad" was now No 1 in the AIBA World Ranking and continued to astound him every time he got in the ring.
"When you look at natural ability and everything like that the nearest I have seen to John Joe was the late George Best," he confessed.
After boxers Paddy Barnes, sporting a fractured nose, and Michael Conlon, landed two silver medals, the High Performance boxing coach Billy Walsh predicted this team can only get better.
"It was a fantastic performance by the whole team," he said.
"Nevin is the best of the best, there's not too many around like him."