Boxing: Darren Sutherland an inspiration to Irish team at Olympics, says former rival
IRELAND boxing captain Darren O'Neill says the memory of tragic former middleweight rival Darren Sutherland will inspire the six-strong team to emulate Sutherland's Olympic heroics at the London Games.
Mr Sutherland was found dead in his London flat just one year after returning from Beijing with a bronze medal, and the death of such a popular character continues to have a profound impact on the close-knit boxing community.
He had beaten O'Neill in the 2008 Irish Senior Championships to reach Beijing, and O'Neill insists he and the rest of the squad will have their former team-mate at the forefront of their minds in London.
O'Neill said: "Darren's death was devastating and it still lingers with us. We trained together many times and had some great fights. As far as we are concerned, Darren is still a major part of this team.
"Before I had my fight to qualify for the Olympics, I said to Darren's former coach that Darren would be looking down on me today and I do feel that he's there. Darren is still an inspiration to all of us."
Having fought his way up through a successful junior career, O'Neill, a former under-21 All-Ireland-winning hurler with Kilkenny, found his route to senior glory blocked by both Sutherland and another Beijing medallist Kenny Egan.
When Sutherland was temporarily sidelined with an eye injury, O'Neill boiled down from light-heavyweight to take his place and went on to establish himself at his new weight, culminating in a European silver medal in 2010.
It was a spectacular achievement for O'Neill, not least because of the calibre of opponents he had to beat in Moscow. O'Neill defeated Anthony Ogogo 10-1 and Ukraine's then world number one Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
O'Neill added: "I have Darren and Ken to thank because when I saw them win medals in Beijing I thought, 'I can do this too'. When I beat Derevyanchenko, it was a real breakthrough fight for me."
O'Neill has another good reason to succeed in London. There is a whole classroom of children at the Holy Trinity primary school in Donaghmede, Dublin, eager to get hold of an Olympic medal.
The 26-year-old is a qualified teacher who has taken a career break since Christmas to focus on the Games.
He added: "The kids have been following me in the papers and on the TV and classroom is covered in posters and banners.
"It is good for the kids to see me as someone else rather than just a teacher. They see that sports stars are really just normal people. And they realise kids from a humble background and upbringing can do successful things."