March 2008 – by Mark Doyle
Michael Carruth relishes finals night at the National Senior Boxing Championships but when we meet shortly after the conclusion of this year’s showpiece he is not a happy man. Far from it, in fact.
The 40-year-old Dubliner, who won welterweight gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, is his usual, warm, entertaining and engaging self but, as he stands beside the ring in a now near-empty National Stadium, he has more than a few things to get off his chest. Carruth has spent the three previous hours watching Ireland’s finest amateurs in action but he has been left less than impressed by what he saw.
Indeed, he is disappointed by the fact that, of the 20 boxers that took to the ring, only one [Holy Family’s light fly-weight Paddy Barnes] is assured of a place in this year’s Olympics, in Beijing.
Of course, bantamweight John Joe Nevin has since qualified for the Games, while there is still one more opportunity for Ireland’s finest to qualify, in Greece in April, but Carruth is disappointed by how poorly represented the country has been in recent years.
“I’m tired of listening to the excuses, to be honest,” he says candidly in an exclusive interview with irish-boxing.com. “After 16 years of disappointment, I’m tired of fighters telling me why they’re not qualifying. There have been too many excuses. “We’re living on past glories. What myself and Wayne [McCullough, the Northern Irishman who won silver at bantamweight] did in Barcelona, winning medals, was exceptional – that’s fair enough – but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have more lads making the Olympics.
“I was on nothing going over there in ’92, so money can’t be used as an excuse by these lads. “Maybe I’m being harsh but I have to call it the way I see it and I’m hearing too many excuses as to why they’re not qualifying. “The cream always rises to the top. If you really are good enough, you should be qualifying. “Paddy qualified last year. Nobody thought he would but he did it. So guys like Darren Sutherland and Kenneth Egan should be qualifying, too. “Ken is a good friend of mine but he has to eat some humble pie and admit that he should be qualifying. I’ve said it to him, ‘here, listen, it’s your turn next; no excuses, just get there’.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom as far as Carruth is concerned. There were plusses on a night of negatives.
In his eyes, the eagerly-anticipated ‘Battle of the two Darrens’ lived up to all the pre-match hype, with defending champion Sutherland coming from three points down at the halfway stage to edge out O’Neill in an absorbing middleweight contest. Sutherland’s technique impressed Carruth; his rather cocksure post-fight interview less so.
“The most exciting fight of the night was Sutherland-O’Neill. It’s a pity that we have two such good fighters at the weight,” he laments. “I was a bit disappointed for Darren O’Neill because he’s a good kid and a talented fighter. He fought well but Sutherland clearly won the fight.
“Sutherland doesn’t have too many fans but he brings that on himself. But we want him to qualify because we want boxers in Beijing. We’ve had some dismal performances over the past few years. “But I think we’ve a good chance this time around because they lads only have to go to Greece and Italy for the qualifiers; they’re not going to Azerbaijan or somewhere like that, so that should make life easier for them.” However, while he is able to take some positives out of what went on inside the ring did encourage him, Carruth is positively fuming about what went on outside it.
Indeed, the scoring, which regularly prompted ironic cheers from a baffled crowd throughout the evening, enraged Carruth, who felt that in each and every fight a number of clean shots went unrewarded by the judges. “It’s something that we really have to look at it,” he argues, shaking his head. “I was very disappointed with the judging. It’s been ludicrous.
“Three times tonight, the crowd cheered when a boxer finally got a score. That shouldn’t be happening. “Surely if the crowd can see the score, then the judges should be able to see the score? I mean, they’re closer to the action. “And I don’t know what it’s down to. Is it bad eyesight or are they too cautious? Press the button when people land punches – it’s a simple task.
“If you can’t do that, let’s go back to the old way of refereeing and judging because there were some silly scores in this Championship and that can only be detrimental to Irish boxing. “If you don’t mark it right, it’s only going to affect the boxers negatively in terms of confidence.”
Carruth is getting warmed up now and, without prompting, turns his attention to Barnes’ victory over James Moore. Barnes was in complete control of the bout but, with just under a minute of the final round remaining and their fighter yet to score a single point, Moore’s trainer threw in the towel.
To say that Carruth did not agree with the decision would be something of an understatement.
“His corner were stupid, absolutely stupid to do that to him,” Carruth exclaims, growing more and more animated by the second. “They should have let him go out on his feet. “Okay, he was going to lose, he wasn’t getting the scores but it was ridiculous that they didn’t let him finish the fight. There was only 30 seconds to go! “It was the worst piece of cornermanship I’ve seen in years. I don’t want to be too harsh on them but they clearly didn’t know what they were doing.”
Suffice to say, the Seniors did not fill Carruth with enthusiasm. However, he believes that this year’s below-par offering is a byproduct of a general malaise affecting amateur boxing as a whole in this country.
Despite the recent high-profile successes of professionals like Bernard Dunne, John Duddy and Andy Lee, the sport, according to Carruth, needs a shot in the arm at the grassroots level and, he argues, the onus is on the amateurs to administer it.
“It has been a disappointing championships overall, I have to say that,” he states. “We’d 65 entries. Jesus, I had that in my own weight in 1992!” “It has been disappointing but that’s the way it’s going. We’re losing out to Gaelic, soccer and rugby. “Boxing needs to become, for want of a better word, ‘sexy’ again. And maybe if we qualify a few boxers for the Olympics, it will become more popular. “Hopefully, they’ll look at the likes of Paddy Barnes and Kenneth Egan, if he makes the Olympics, and they’ll become heroes and role models for them. That would give Irish boxing the boost it needs. “The pro game has lifted things over the past year and the kids have noticed that.
“But the European soccer championships are on this summer and kids will be out kicking footballs around rather than boxing because the Olympics is on in Shanghai, so the fights will be on at ridiculous hours. Unfortunately, I fear a lot of the fights will be missed. “Still, it all comes down to the fact that we have to get our fighters out there first of all. If they qualify, then we have a chance. So the time for excuses is definitely over.”