05 June 2008 – by Cormac Campbell
If you had been asked a year ago which of Irelands amateur boxers had a chance of qualifying for the Olympic Games, two names would have sprung to mind.
It seemed natural that Darren Sutherland and Ken Egan would be in contention what was a surprise was that it took so long for them to secure their berths.
What was equally surprising, but no less welcome, is the fact that three other boxers, namely Paddy Barnes, John Joe Nevin and John Joe Joyce will be joining them on the flight to Beijing. In addition, the Irish will undoubtedly find a place in their hearts for British starlet Frankie Gavin. The reigning World Champion is of Irish stock and will travel to Beijing as a heavy betting favourite.
Supporting members of the Irish Diaspora in major sporting events is nothing new but to have five Irish based boxers travel to the Olympics is the stuff of dreams for the IABA and the entire amateur boxing fraternity. For what it means is that they can confidently lobby for greater funding as well as media and public recognition for their events and training facilities. A snowball is at the top of the hill and if any of the five can secure medals there is a fair chance it will be pushed off.
Think back to the bad old days when we were mustering only one or two entrants and the expectation that was placed on the young shoulders of Andy Lee only four years ago.
With numbers comes security. As such the pressure on each of the boxers will be less, and thankfully they can concentrate more on what they have to do rather than letting anybody else down.
However, such is the competitiveness of the Olympic Games that it is impossible to know whether or not an Irishman will find himself standing on any of the three steps at the Workers Gymnasium Arena on August 24.
If visiting athletes are to be granted a fair crack of the whip in China remains to be seen. Although the Olympics is meant to be above politics, all too often outside influences have reared their ugly heads. It is neither controversial nor sensationalist to suspect that the upcoming games will escape without any sort of scandal whether internal or external.
Moreover, the much-maligned computer scoring system can be painfully subjective and as such the Irish squad will expect no favours.
With 24 boxers in each weight division and the cruel reality that a boxer good enough for silver could be eliminated by the eventual winner in the first round one would be wise to refrain from making audacious predictions.
Saying that, the fact that three of our men picked up gold at the last qualifying event in Athens (Egan, Sutherland and Joyce) should instil belief amongst the squad that they have the ability to do some damage on the amateur codes most prominent stage.
What is equally fruitless is to consider which of the boxers will switch codes come autumn.
Professional bigwigs such as Brian Peters and John Breen have stopped short of saying which of the boxers have caught their eyes, but make no mistake if a medal is brought home offers will be flying around like wildfire.