Europe beckons

26 October 2008 – by Kevin Byrne

John Joe Joyce may have thrilled Irish fans during the summer as one member of Irelands fantastic Olympic boxing team – but try telling him that.

While the other four fighters on that five-man squad take a time-out in advance of Novembers European Championships, the St Michaels Athy man refuses to rest.

For Joyce, the only path towards reward and redemption lies in the ring, and that is why he will be leading the Irish medal charge in Liverpool.

Team captain and silver medallist Kenny Egan remains amateur as of yet – but on a well deserved break. Darren Sutherland slots into the Frank Maloney professional stable with a Beijing bronze in the bag. The hectic schedule of training for the Asian extravaganza has taken its toll on fellow bronze medallist Paddy Barnes who has decided to give this championship a miss. Cavan clubman John Joe Nevin has been in training with the lads ahead of the tournament, sparring with Ryan Lindberg, who represents Ireland in bantamweight this time round.

But despite the incredible physical demands placed upon Joyce to do likewise and give this a miss, he refuses to bow. The hurt of losing – on a sickening countback decision – to the eventual champion Felix Diaz power him on. The 21-year-old from Mulingar feels he has unfinished business.

That loss will just make me a bit more determined, he told

Four whole years and its going to be hard to forget about it. Its hard, hard to lose, and especially the way it happened. And for your man to go on and win the gold, but in a way its Im only young and Ill learn from it and get better things. I would have got better if the tournament went on, he may have too, we all get better as tournaments go on. But if only I got another stab at him, Id be ready.

Still, in managing to get past his round-of-32 fight in August, Joyce had to overcome his oldest foe, the man he describes as a heartbreaker. In Beijing, Joyce, a man who continuously speaks of the importance of the draw, was dealt a dodgy hand. In being matched up with the Hungarian Gyula Kate, he must have felt like God was punishing him. But the optimist in him spotted an opportunity to put things right. He had faced Kate three times before and lost the lot – the last defeat in an Olympic qualifier in Pescara. He was determined not to make it four.

That was my final, probably, that was my Olympics. he said. Just to beat him, after him stopping me the last three or four times. It was the worst possible draw, even drawing a Cuban wouldnt have been as bad. He had tortured me the last few months, in Pescara, so if there was any place to beat him, over there was the place.

But since that 9-5 triumph, described by one English newspaper at the time as the highlight of Irelands Olympics to date a possible fifth meeting with Kate now holds no fear for Joyce. He reckons he is now mature enough to fulfill his potential, and take home the medals he regards as a birthright. He came through the Open Senior Competition organised by the IABA to pick next months squad with relative ease, dispatching Phil Sutcliffe and Stephen Donnelly to confirm his position as the top light welterweight in the country.

It was good in a way to forget about the Olympics, a way of getting straight back into it after the Olympics, thats what I wanted to do. They werent too tough (the Open Senior Competition bouts) and I got through it, thats the main thing. And Im looking forward to Liverpool. And if Kates there, Im thinking Ill focus more on him this time having already beaten him, hes 26/27 now but if hes there hell be up for it. Probably even more this time, especially if he draws me. But then Ill just have to raise my game again to be ready for it.

With captain Egan taking his time and enjoying the fruits of his summers heroics, the squad is perhaps looking around for different leaders. And despite his youth, Joyce is happy to show the way if needed. Having been to the Olympic Games, he is happy to share his knowledge with the other fighters, who nonetheless have no lack of big time experience themselves. The likes of Conor Ahern and Darren ONeill, David Oliver Joyce and Eamon OKane from this set-up have all been around the block and can cope with the expectations which go hand-in-hand with a successful team.

We have a few new faces on the team now, I think the lads will be up for it, but theres still a few old heads there. Im only 21, I wouldnt say Im too experienced and there are lads there with plenty more than me and you be trying to get a bit of advice off them. But I think were all in good shape. I do feel one of the main lads in the team, one of the main lads anyway. Kenny is still the leader, hes still amateur. Im the only one from the Olympics who is going to Liverpool, but I feel like I thrive under the extra pressure. Well all perform and see how it goes after that. Were all looking forward to it – and we dont know whos gonna win the medals till we get out there.

Stay tuned to for Kevin Byrnes interview with middleweight star Eamon OKane.

Irish squad for Liverpool

51Kg: (Flyweight) Conor Ahern (Baldoyle)

54Kg: (Bantamweight) Ryan Lindberg (Immaculata)

57Kg: (Featherweight) David Oliver Joyce (St Michael’s Athy)

60Kg: (Lightweight) Ross Hickey (Grangecon)

64Kg: (Light welterweight) John Joe Joyce (St Michael’s Athy)

69Kg: (Welterweight) Willie McLoughlin (Illies GG)

75Kg: (Middleweight) Eamon O’Kane (Immaculata)

81Kg: (Light heavyweight) Darren O’Neill (Paulstown)

91Kg: (Heavyweight) Con Sheehan (Clonmel)

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