Friday 22 November 2019

Boxing was in Nevin's blood from the cradle

Hero's welcome awaits Mullingar man who came so close


OLYMPIC silver medallist John Joe Nevin has come a long way since he went into the ring for his first fight at eight years of age in his home town of Mullingar. He went into the ring with a 12-year-old who was two stone heavier than him and "went out through the ropes".

Last week, John Joe proved himself one of the great Irish athletes of Olympics 2012. He secured the first medal of the Games for Ireland, when he beat Oscar Valdez. The win ensured him a place in the semi-finals and a guarantee of a bronze medal.

His hero is Francie Barrett, the first member of the Traveller community to box in the Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta. More than a decade later, John Joe, who is from a settled Traveller family, followed in his footsteps at the 2008 games in Beijng.

In an interview earlier this year, he said: "When I qualified for the last Olympics I was 18 years old, I was only a baby. I was very cocky, you know how teenagers are! Now I'll be one of the big guns, so if I bring my 'A' game to the ring I can beat anyone."

John Joe had reason to be confident. He became the first Irish boxer to win two world championship medals last year, and believed he was on peak form for 2012. "I want to go all the way, it's like that song Queen sings, I Want It All, I want every bit of it. I want to be the best in the world," he told reporters after securing his bronze.

John Joe went on to beat the Cuban boxer and world bantamweight champion Lazaro Alvarez Estrada on Friday afternoon. As the fight that got Nevin through to last night's Olympic final, it should have been a joyous occasion -- especially for his family who proudly gathered to watch the match back home in Mullingar. It was soured by claims that some local pubs wouldn't serve some members of his family.

While huge crowds gathered to watch Friday's semi-final on screens in Mullingar's market square, his mother, Winnie, eventually watched the fight in another pub several miles outside of town.

She said she spoke to John Joe before he entered the ring, and had to tell him what happened. "He was about to go into the ring and he shouldn't have been dealing with that."

Luckily, the news did not put John Joe off his game.

Afterwards, she said: "I'm over the moon. I was expecting him to lose. I'll tell you the truth... I said it to him this morning, I said will you go in and fight for fun.

"John's thought on it was 'I have nothing to lose', but in my mind I thought he'd lose."

But he made it through to the Olympic final. Last week John Joe said that, win or lose, he'd go out smiling. Despite his loss last night, he will return home to a hero's welcome, with his silver medal proudly around his neck.

A homecoming parade has been organised in Mullingar for 6.30pm tomorrow night. He will travel through the town in an open topped bus, led by the Mullingar Band, culminating in a special ceremony in Cusack Park.

John Joe had requested that all bars in his home town stay shut during his homecoming parade.

Sunday Independent

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