Wednesday 17 January 2018

John Joe Nevin now has to fight with his demons

Nobody wants to read, in a few years, of the slow, sad decline of another once great athlete, writes ­Willie Kealy

PUB BRAWL: We heard from court reports that John Joe Nevin is barred from every pub in Westmeath. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
PUB BRAWL: We heard from court reports that John Joe Nevin is barred from every pub in Westmeath. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Willie Kealy

Willie Kealy

John Joe Nevin is a great sportsman who has brought honour to his country and to himself as an Olympic boxer.

He is a superb physical specimen as evidenced by the speed and success of his recovery from having his two legs broken badly in a fracas.

But there is another side to John Joe Nevin - the side that seems to get him into the kind of trouble that left him with the two broken legs in the first place.

When we first heard about that unfortunate incident, we were told it was a row between related Travellers. John Joe is a Traveller. And I am sure the incident reinforced the stereotypical and prejudicial view many people have of Travellers. Some recent television programmes about the Travelling community and their "culture" have done nothing to dispel that unfortunate image.

But when John Joe got beaten around the legs so badly that they were both shattered, we kind of assumed that he must have found himself in a difficult spot not of his own making. He was probably trapped and unable to flee, and against baseball bats, the fists are not much protection anyway, even if they are world-class fists.

It sounded like one unfortunate incident made heroic by John Joe's quick return, not just to health, but to further success in the ring.

And then he went and did it again. John Joe was in court last week for his part in yet another pub row.

We learned from the court reports that he is already barred out of every pub in his native Westmeath, pending the hearing of a case involving a third brawl - this one outside a pub called the Porter House in Mullingar. Theses premises are better known, apparently, as 'The Slaughter House' because of the number of rows that have taken place at or in it. Last week, John Joe was up in court for his involvement in a different row outside the same pub. Which allows for the depressing conclusion that there is a pattern emerging.

And the picture that goes with it is not one of a reluctant pugilist being challenged outside the ring, but refusing to put his skills to use because of the code of the sport. No, the picture is of a man who thinks there is nothing unusual about drinking "10 or 12 pints of Carling beer", having started at 4pm. Nor does the excuse - "It was Christmas time, everyone is entitled" - give the impression of any great remorse.

The melee outside 'The Slaughter House' that the gardai were called to involved several people, but John Joe was not some unlucky spectator on the sidelines. He was, the court was told, very agitated and attempted to strike another individual in the face with his silver medal-winning fists.

He wasn't calmed down by the arrival of the gardai either. Confronted by one garda, he asked: "Do you know who I am?" And when told to move along, he said: "You don't fucking tell me what to do." He was charged with a public order offence. Judge Seamus Hughes decided to give him a chance, perhaps out of respect for the obvious potential of this fine young athlete. He got away with making a €500 donation to the poor box. The judge said he did not wish to "criminalise" him, but warned that it was a last chance. If it happens again, he's going to jail.

The court heard that John Joe is now off the drink and back in training for his next fight. But any top-flight athlete will tell you that at the level John Joe participates, you are always in training.

From now on, the path for John Joe Nevin can go one of two ways. And it isn't necessarily as easy a choice as that sounds. If drink is his demon, it can put up a hell of a fight.

Let's hope he is smart enough to learn a lesson and strong enough to take the chance he has been given by Judge Hughes.

Nobody wants to read in a few short years about the sad decline of a once great sportsman.

We've read that story too many times before.

Sunday Independent

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