Wednesday 22 November 2017

Kenneth Egan: Friday's draw the first big bout for our talented boxing squad

If Brendan Irvine can avoid the Russian in his weight in that crucial draw, he could go a long way this time around Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
If Brendan Irvine can avoid the Russian in his weight in that crucial draw, he could go a long way this time around Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Kenneth Egan

Not a punch will be thrown at one of the most important moments of the Olympic Boxing tournament next Friday morning - the draw.

Once I see the results in all eight categories that we have fighters in in Rio, I'll have a pretty good idea of how we'll do and how many medals we will bring home.

Our eight boxers go into the draw in three different categories. There are Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor whom everyone else in the world in their weights will be praying to avoid in the draw.

There are Joe Ward and Brendan Irvine, who are stuck in the middle, and I'll explain what I mean by that in a minute.

And finally we have David Oliver Joyce, Michael O'Reilly and Steven Donnelly who are hoping for great things in that draw, such as avoiding anyone with the distinction of 'champion' after their name.


And if they do, any of that trio is capable of winning a medal in Rio. That's all they need to do. To win that first fight, get up and running and suddenly you can find yourself in an Olympic quarter-final, boxing for nine minutes with a medal there to be grasped.

What none of them need are a world champion in front of them, or a good Cuban or a strong Eastern European.

Remember, that to qualify, each of our boxers has put other good men and women out of the Games. They each have a chance to do damage.

As, of course, do Barnes, Conlan and Taylor. Such is the standard that these three superb competitors set for themselves that bringing home anything less than a Gold Medal in Rio will be a grave disappointment.

It's not that easy, of course. There's illness, a cut, an inspired opponent, anything can go wrong for even the best boxer at the Games. But no one in the world will want to fight these three superb Irish sports stars.

Katie comes into these games with a weakness and a strength. The weakness is that her losses in the recent World and European Championships have stripped her of that aura of invincibility. Every boxer at her weight will fancy taking on our great champion now.

But Katie will turn that knowledge into a strength. She will be so hungry to prove herself all over again, to prove that she is the best.

This wonderful boxer is actually at her finest when her back is to the wall, as it was in that Olympic Final four years ago. I'd advise any of the girls in the Olympic lightweight class who want to fight Katie over the next few weeks to think again. You will be dealing with a wounded tigress.

Why I say Joe Ward and Brendan Irvine are in the middle is because of this factor. I rate them as highly as our top three stars, but, for a variety of reasons, they don't have as many international medals as that group and so will not be seeded in the draw.

It means Joe could face the horror scrap of having to take on Cuba's Julio La Cruz, who has beaten him twice, in the first round. It's a bout that would be worthy of the Olympic Final, but it may happen next Saturday or Sunday if the draw is not kind to Joe.

He's a brilliant talent, and he has an Olympic medal in him. Oh, how I want it to be a Gold one to make up for the one I didn't get at light-heavyweight in Beijing. Take it from me, Joe Ward is good enough to get it.

Brendan Irvine has a gold medal in him too, though at 20, he's realistic enough to know that it might be won in Tokyo in four years' time.

'The Wee Rooster', as he's known, has handled moving up a weight very well because he knew he wouldn't be getting past Paddy Barnes for the light flyweight slot.

People think doing that is just a matter of putting on a few kilos, but it's not. You have to do it properly, under your trainer's advice and you have to get used to fighting a whole new set of opponents, both at home and abroad.


If Brendan can avoid the Russian in his weight in that crucial draw, he could go a long way this time around, never mind Tokyo.

All the hard work has been done now, the next few days are about keeping your weight spot on and getting into a routine in the Olympic village.

Finding out where the dry cleaners is, where the canteen is, arranging a time for everyone to eat together. Because that's what the boxing team will do, they will work as a team, they will stick together, train together, work together.

An Olympic boxing team becomes a part of your life that will only last for the three weeks of the Games, but will actually last forever. A big issue for the next few days is making sure every one of our team comes in on their weight.

Because in amateur boxing you have to make the weight before every fight! You can't just make it for the first one and then put on what weight you like. No, you have to be 52kgs, or 60kgs or 81kgs or whatever the limit is. Miss it and you don't get to fight. And you don't want four years of blood, sweat and occasional tears going down the pan in that manner.

Irish Independent

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