A tale of two boxers brings Irish Olympic story exploding to life

THE HIGH beams of the Workers’ Gymnasium shook to the marching song of the great proletariat. “Olé, Olé, Olé,” they sang. “You’ll never beat the Irish.”

Below in the squared ring first Paddy Barnes of Belfast and then Kenny Egan of Neilstown, Dublin, backed up that hoary old boast.

Two quarter-final wins in their respective Olympic boxing tournaments guarantees Ireland two medals at the weekend. In all likelihood, by Sunday evening the humble sport of boxing will have accounted for at least half of the medals Ireland has won at various Olympiads.

These Olympics, which were shaping up as a Long March type of exercise involving the grim setting of the daily casualty lists, suddenly exploded for Ireland yesterday. Tuesday in Beijing was a tale of two boxers.

First Paddy Barnes, a diminutive lightweight-fly boxer from Belfast, opened the evening’s programme at the Workers’ Gymnasium with a performance that suggested his youthfulness only in the confident manner of its delivery.

Just 21 years old, Barnes has bucked the trend of Irish Olympism and over-achieved. The expedition was supposed to be an occasion of learning for the young man. It has become a procession.

“My aim coming here was just to get a fight. I’ll get a medal now and it is beyond my dreams,” said Barnes. By winning his quarter-final and guaranteeing himself at least a bronze medal at the weekend, Barnes became the 10th Irishman to achieve an Olympic boxing medal.

Two hours later it was the turn of the Irish team captain to finish out the first 11. Kenny Egan stepped into the ring as a hard-luck story. He failed to qualify for Athens four years ago and, as he says himself, cried into his pillow over it for a few nights.

Egan is 26 years old and has four failed tilts at world championships under his belt. Yesterday, fate unfolded sweetly for him. Facing Washington Silva, a rather cautious Brazilian, Egan mixed some solid attacking boxing with his trademark brilliant defence to win by 8-0.

“I conceded two in my first fight, two in my second and none today. That’s how I have the looks that I have,” joked Egan.

Barnes’s and Egan’s medals are the first Ireland has won in the ring since the 1992 Games in Barcelona when, in a gentle parallel, Wayne McCullough, a Belfast man, and Michael Carruth, a Dubliner, brought back baubles. Egan noted that it was the sight of Carruth winning gold that sent him as an eight-year-old to join the local boxing club in Neilstown.

The story doesn’t end with yesterday’s scenes. Today, former DCU student Darren Sutherland fights in yet another quarter-final, bidding to become the third Irishman of the five who qualified for Beijing to go home with a metal object in his luggage.


~ by Digory Kirke on August 20, 2008.

One Response to “A tale of two boxers brings Irish Olympic story exploding to life”

  1. Excellent post about a great day

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