Golden girl Katie tops off year of years
BOXING:Ireland’s boxers were the pride of the nation after delivering four medals in an ExCel summer, writes JOHNNY WATTERSON
A year of years in boxing. They rolled out the red carpet in Dublin’s Mansion House for a traveller from Mullingar, a kid from west Belfast, a light flyweight from the Ardoyne and a girl from a council estate in Bray. The politicians love-bombed the boxers as Ireland looked to a few marginalised communities and to a sport that has traditionally had to dazzle to draw a second glance.
Four years on from Beijing, boxing was again Ireland’s Olympic buoyancy aid that kept national dignity above the water line and where the act of winning led the nation into a collective act of believing. People staked an emotional claim on the team and they allowed their moods swing with the scorecards of judges.
The lugubrious ExCel Arena became a kilometre stretch of drama and tears, an east London strip of cavernous halls and a central walkway too modern to house ghosts but vast enough to bury dreams.
It will be recalled time and time again when the boxing historians pick over the bones of the summer that Ireland finished fifth on the boxing medal table above the People’s Republic of China and the USA.
In the commotion it was easy to forget where some of it came from. The Bray gym without heating or showers, where boxers charged up the road dodging the rain drops to use the toilets in the Harbour Bar. From cold and hardship often comes gold and that was the way it was.
It began as soon as John Joe Nevin stepped into the ring for his first bantamweight fight on July 28th and sparked a chain reaction that pitched and rolled from day to day. As the team picked their way through the draw, welterweight Adam Nolan came into the game. Then captain Darren O’Neill won his round-of-32 bout before falling to German middleweight Stefan Hartel one match away from a bronze medal fight. Garda Nolan also went through to the round of 16 before succumbing 18-9 to the eventual bronze medallist Andrey Zamkovoy.
Two fell, four moved on, Nolan and O’Neill left standing still, illustrating how boxing almost always writes a personal narrative. But those names, ones people may never have known before London 2012, were given a sense of importance and place, their struggles in the docklands cutting across the usual demographic paths. Hand in hand everyone walked.
It was Nevin who boldly began the sweep towards a final and three days after his first fight he had secured a bronze medal meeting with Fierro Valdez before light flyweight Paddy Barnes or Michael Conlan had even stepped into the ring for their opening bouts. The two Belfast boys then began to press home their cases undeterred, the scrapper Barnes finally losing out on a place in the final on a 15-15 count back against China’s Shimming Zou and Conlan falling short in his semi-final bout against Cuba’s Robeisy Ramírez.