Jason Quigley a jewel among middleweights as he struggles to take the positives
Coach Billy Walsh calls on business sector to get involve and help boxers
Ireland’s Jason Quigley on his way to defeat against Zanibek Alimkhanuly of Kazakhstan during their middleweight final clash. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
It was a leaden Jason Quigley who took to his 3.50am flight from Almaty on Sunday morning. Several hours after his World Championships final defeat, the 22-year-old was still of the mood that Kazakhstan had been unkind to him. His feeling was disappointment, when most others saw soaring accomplishment.
Perspective may only settle in when the rawness of his unanimous defeat against Kazakhstan’s gold medal winner Zhanibek Alimkhanuly begins to ebb. Quigley and his coach and father Conor now know without doubt he is one of the brightest middleweights in world boxing. That, at least, has been the other unanimous decision to leave with him from the Palace of Sport, one that has currency beyond the hinterlands of Donegal.
“I’ll probably go away and look at things and try to take the positives out of it but as you know yourself now it’s hard to think of them things,” said Quigley, his words arriving in broken, unforgiving chunks drawing large breaths in between.
“Winning an Irish title this year would have been a dream for me . . . to go on and do what I done . . . I know I’m going to be happy after things are over but when you are a winner deep down and you dig deep and put your whole life into the sport and then get down to the last fight . . . it’s hard to take.”
But even in the heat of the minutes after the Kazakh’s win Irish coach Billy Walsh was thinking of the future and the out-of-ring tasks he may face with Quigley, bronze medal light heavyweight Joe Ward as well as London Olympic medallists Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes.
Barnes in one of his off-hand quips said he will drop back to the 49 kg division but with the current depth of talent and the world silver medallist an eye-catching crowd pleaser, the coach isn’t without anxiety. John Joe Nevin’s declaration to turn professional in the middle of the amateur World Championships provided an informative backdrop to the Irish success. Walsh will have Rio 2016 in mind and a complacent view that Ireland will be in excellent shape in three years’ time may not be shared by all.
“There are people knocking on the door already for that guy,” warned Walsh nodding towards Quigley. “For Joe Ward, for Conlan, for Barnes, people knocking for all those guys and if they go we will have to start all over again and we only have a couple of years left till Rio. We have to hold on to these guys and keep them comfortable. We have to let them train and do their business without any worries.
“All these countries are getting better, bigger, stronger and faster. We’ve got to keep moving with them. We’ve got to get the facilities to do that. We’ve got to get the sponsorship behind us to enable us to look after these guys and keep them amateur till Rio.”
The British team were decimated after London 2012 and barely treaded water in Almaty. Only English middleweight Antony Fowler made the semi-finals before withdrawing with a hand injury. Scotland had no boxer in a semi-final, Wales just their breathlessly talented flyweight, Andrew Selby.
“In fairness to the Sports Council they are rewarded pretty well,” added Walsh. “But maybe it needs to go an extra bit and perhaps someone from outside . . . some business could maybe come in and help us.”
Looking at options
Boxers are always looking at options. What may fall in Walsh’s favour is that while 19-year-old Ward and Quigley now have European and World Championship medals, neither has competed in an Olympic Games. Ward missed out in qualification last year in Trabzon, Turkey, while Darren O’Neil was the Irish middleweight at London 2012 and team captain.
Quigley’s father will now tell him to take at least a month’s rest. In that time the middleweight may look back on Almaty and see a stunning personal contribution and with five quarter-finalists an Irish team that came close to truly eclipsing previous marks.
Walsh thinks the recovery time of barely 24 hours may have been a telling factor in the final. And on the back of a European Championship win in June and two weeks’ camp before Kazakhstan, Quigley’s first year at senior level has been a sequence of reaching for physical limits.
“I saw fatigue in his movement,” said Walsh. “I saw fatigue in his punches coming near the end. He gave everything but unfortunately his opponent was a bit fresher.”
His father Conor, still oozing pride and also seeing the fruits of his own input as coach, saw his son disconsolate and emptied in the changing rooms.
“I went into him afterwards,” said Conor. “He was sitting there and he was gutted. He just said, ‘I give it everything’ and what could you say to that. You give it everything in a world final. That’s all that you can do.
“When he goes back he’ll have total rest because he has had a massive, massive year. Sometimes you just have to tell them to stop. As his coach and as his father that’s what you have to do. He needs recovery. Go back home and maybe go on a wee holiday and chill. We’re very, very proud and very, very happy about what he’s done.”
A feeling that is not confined to Ballybofey.