18 August 2008 – by Conor Ward
Kenny Egan, Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes are all just one fight away from securing an Olympic medal, as they carry Irish hopes into the quarter-final stage of their respective weight divisions.
Bringing a talented team of five strong to the games, boxing was always likely to be the most fruitful pursuit for the Irish in Beijing, and that script is being followed thus far, with these three exciting contenders still standing at the business end of proceedings in the Workers Gymnasium.
And when one considers Irelands Olympic history in a bit more detail, then the idea of placing high hopes on our boxers appears yet more logical. Indeed, Boxing has yielded nine of Irelands total of twenty Olympic medals.
But before considering the prospects of Egan, Sutherland and Barnes, its only right to applaud the gallant efforts of Athys John Joe Joyce and Mullingar native John Joe Nevin, who exited the competition at the last-16 stage. Light-welterweight Joyce, 20, was visibly distraught after he was cruelly denied on the countback system, having drawn 11 points apiece with Felix Diaz of the Dominican Republic on Thursday. His performance was brave and admirable, and on reflection, Joyce will surely see the value of the experience.
In Nevins case, there was no doubt about the rightful winner, as the 19-year-old went down to classy Mongolian Bada-Uugan Enkhbat on a 9-2 scoreline last Friday. There was certainly no embarrassment in that for Nevin, however, after facing an opponent of such supreme skill and greater experience, who will surely now fancy his chances of taking gold.
Both Joyce and Nevin can take massive positives away from Beijing. For one thing, they both got a victory under their belts, and both showed undeniable ability. Just being at an Olympics at such a tender age was a huge experience in itself. If they lacked anything, it was the physicality to impose themselves on their opponent. That will come with four more years of training and dedication, and both are likely to be eyeing medals at London 2012.
Back in 2008, diminutive Belfast man Barnes is next in action for the Irish, as he takes on Polands Lukasz Maszczyk in the light-flyweight division on Tuesday lunchtime, having accounted for Ecuadors Jose Luis Meza on Saturday.
Barnes showed impressive power and aggression in comfortably overcoming Mezas challenge, though perhaps a more measured approach will serve him better from here on in. If he can let his hands go in similar fashion, asserting his authority, and then cover up and retreat at the right times, Barnes is in with a great chance of advancing.
Then its the turn of team captain Egan, as he takes on Brazils Washington Silva in the last eight of the light-heavyweight competition on Tuesday afternoon.
Its not a case of getting carried away by a wave of patriotic excitement to say that the 26-year-old Dubliner is a serious gold medal prospect, and on the cusp of igniting these games for the Irish public at large.
Southpaw Egan has shown wonderful guile in both attack and defence to cruise into the last eight, as he brushed aside overconfident Turk Bahram Muzaffer in his last outing. Whats more, the draw has been kind to Egan, with Silva looking little more than mediocre in his narrow victory over Bastie Samir of Ghana in the last 16.
Egan should have greater accuracy and superior movement to the Brazilian, and if he takes care of business here, we can start to dream about ultimate glory.
Exciting middleweight Sutherland will then take centre stage on Wednesday, when he squares up to Venezuelas Alfonso Blanco Parra.
Sutherland, who will likely emerge as a star attraction of the professional ranks after his Beijing exploits, showed devastating power to force a late stoppage against Algerias Nabil Kassel on Saturday morning. However, he faces a far tougher assignment against Parra, who handsomely outpointed Argenis Nunez of the Dominican Republic in the last 16.
The Venezuelan also has the psychological edge over Sutherland, having defeated the Irishman 20-13 en route to bagging a silver medal in last year’s World Championships in Chicago. Expect an all-action keenly-contested fight here, though I suspect it could be dangerous to invest too much hope in Sutherlands chances.
This campaign can already be marked as a success for the Irish team, who have not so much punched above their weight, as proven their pedigree and done their country proud on the world stage. There is every chance they can take two victories out of three in the quarter-finals, and that as we know, means a guarantee of two medals. Exciting times indeed.