Nevin forced to settle for silver
BOXING:WHAT NEXT? It has been the weary greeting to the boxers as they emerge from the ring. They work their nine-minute shift and the question arrives like a final jab after the fight has finished, sometimes when they are still dabbing blood from their nose.
Go on holiday, see family, think about the future has been the stock reply.
Katie Taylor was asked, Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and most recently John Joe Nevin. Nevin was warming to the idea of an Olympic silver medal in his pocket rather than the lost gold after his 14-11 loss to Luke Campbell.
The realisation that he is among a rare group of silver medal-winning Irish boxers along side John McNally (1952), Fred Tiedt (1956), Wayne McCullagh (1992) and Kenny Egan (2008) and the breadth of what he has achieved rather than what he has missed was taking grip.
Nevin too was non-committal about his future. He has not said he will turn professional, nor has he confirmed sticking with the amateurs but the 23-year-old has openly spoken about his love affair with the paid ranks. The Games are over but some important work on hearts and minds may just be beginning.
It is an issue that Billy Walsh will want to address as soon as the boxing reviews have been completed. Walsh’s memory doesn’t fade with the mention of Andy Lee, a lost middleweight talent who ended up in the Kronk Gym, Detroit with Emanuel Steward.
The fear is that if Taylor departs along with Nevin and maybe Conlan, whose 25-year-old brother Jamie is a professional, Ireland does not have the depth to replace them with other podium material in time for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Nobody can replace Taylor, perhaps ever again. But if Conlan or Nevin feel their futures lie outside the gates of the National Stadium, Irish boxing could be in a bind.
Walsh still regrets the loss of Lee.
“It is important that we hold on to this team and that we hold all the staff together as well,” says Walsh. “We have all the knowledge here now. We have great experience. The fact that we have repeatedly done it shows that we’re world class. We need to hold on to all those people and respect them and treat them as they are, world class people.
“Looking back to Athens, Andy (Lee) was on his own (only boxer). What a talent that guy is. We begged him to stay ’til Beijing because I firmly believe he would have been the gold medal winner in Athens. We’ve been chasing this gold medal for 10 years now. I’ve been in two finals and I still can’t get my hands on it. I thought yesterday was going to be our day.”
Had Nevin mirrored his semi-final performance against Cuban, Lazaro Alvarez, gold would have been closer than three points. As the fight fell, the bantamweight dropped behind to the 5ft 11in Campbell and then the counter puncher was forced to chase another counter puncher. At 5-3 down after the first round, Nevin’s hopes that he could coax Campbell to come to him perished.
“He is a tremendous boxer and he had his tactics made out,” said Nevin. “He got up in the first round and we thought . . . maybe the second round .. . he was two points clear. He was very hard to pin down, being so tall and rangy, but I take nothing away from him. He’s a tremendous boxer.”
The difference between the two narrowed after a better second round from Nevin.
His tempo against the southpaw went up but he stayed patient and took the fight to one point going into the final straight.
It was midway through that round that Nevin’s push for gold collapsed. A right hand from Campbell that looked innocent enough caught Nevin and he tumbled. A standing count was enough to take the steam out of the Irishman and fortify the Yorkshire lad.
“Both of them are counter-punchers. Whoever took the lead was going to win it,” said a rueful Walsh. “There was a two-point gap in the first round and that was key. We came back in the second and I thought we had got back to level but there was still a point in it.
“It was difficult to chase it but we felt he could do it because he had the momentum at that stage. Then he got caught off balance in the third which probably swung it in his (Campbell) favour.”
Disappointment with Olympic silver medals seems ludicrously far-fetched.
But that has been the Irish boxing world for the last two weeks. Nevin, Conlan and Barnes were all beaten by the eventual Olympic Champion.
Only Britain, Ukraine and Russia won more boxing medals. Far-fetched is the new reality.