Nevin makes sure of at least a silver lining to add to Taylor's gold
FOLLOWING KATIE Taylor must be the toughest act of these Olympics. But somehow the band of skinny, brash winners which Billy Walsh has transformed into a brilliant team is doing just that. Yesterday in London, it was the Irish boys who lit up the cavernous boxing hall.
Taylor’s gold medal was about confirming her fabulousness on a great stage. But it was in John Joe Nevin’s afternoon bantamweight semi-final that Ireland’s boxing story really began to trip the light fantastic. He was up against Lazaro Alvarez Estrada, the elegant Cuban – world champion at this division.
From the first exchanges, Nevin bossed the fight, keeping his distance and landing precise, stinging punches. It was a riveting performance which clearly thrilled Walsh and Zaur Antia, the calm Georgian with the doleful eyes.
It wasn’t even close. Nevin led through every round and as the fight entered its last minute he felt sufficiently emboldened to showcase the most audacious footwork of any Westmeath man since Joe Dolan hit the charts with Good Lookin’ Woman. “That was the Mullingar shuffle,” Nevin joked afterwards.
Of all the boxers, Nevin is the least extroverted but it was clear that he revelled in these minutes. “I am over the moon. I always said I am up there with the best in the world. I am getting better as I go along. The script was already written but I’ve rewritten it. I just believed I could beat the best in the world.”
Even in defeat, Walsh’s Irish kids are winning plaudits. Four years ago Paddy Barnes failed to land a punch against Zou Shiming of China in their bronze medal match in Beijing. At lunchtime yesterday, they faced one another again in the light flyweight semi-final and in an absorbing, brilliant fight, Barnes went blow for blow. It finished 15-15 and, although the arena trembled with rampantly expectant Irish fans, the call did not go the Emerald way this time. Zou was declared the winner after a count-back of scoring.
Barnes was proud and inconsolable. “I felt total and utter devastation,” he said. “I thought I had it because I threw more punches. I had a slow start in the first round and that’s what did it. I gave it my all. I’ve trained so hard for the last four years and my aim was gold.”
Last night, Michael Conlan went into his flyweight semi-final with Robeisy Ramirez, another boxer from Cuba’s gilded academy, having made the semi-final in the flyweight category. Ramirez displayed the classical strengths of the Cuban tradition – power and silky fastness – in his 20-10 win over the Conlan. The Belfast lad finishes with bronze.
Nevin fights for gold tonight – against GB’s Luke Campbell – in what is going to be the most theatrical match of these games.