Brendan Irvine sees silver lining after narrow final defeat

Ireland’s first medal winner at European Games is looking to greater things for future

Russia’s Bator Sagaluev beat Brendan Irvine of Ireland in the light flyweight final of the European Games at Crystal Hall, Baku. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Russia’s Bator Sagaluev beat Brendan Irvine of Ireland in the light flyweight final of the European Games at Crystal Hall, Baku. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

 

Even if these European Games turn out to be nothing more than a minor rumble in the sporting jungle they will always be remembered by Brendan Irvine. Ireland’s first medal winner and, entirely fittingly, won inside the boxing ring.

Because this is the sport that continues to front the Irish medal success at major championships.

Irvine may have looked mildly disappointed when having to settle for silver, losing his light flyweight final to the fiercely competitive Russian Bator Sagaluev, yet there’s no doubt that Baku has put him on the Irish sporting map for the first time, and probably not the last.

At just 19, and coming out of St Paul’s club in Belfast, Irvine’s silver medal also opens up more immediate opportunities: by making this final bout, he also earned himself an automatic qualifying spot for the Boxing World Championships, in Doha, later this year – where Rio Olympic qualification places are also up for grabs.

Exactly how that will work out with fellow Irish light flyweight Paddy Barnes (already qualified for Rio, in a quest to win a third Olympic medal) remains to be seen, although there’s no doubt that Irvine has this week laid down a flaming marker of his potential.

“Yeah, mixed emotions,” he said after his fight – and accepting his silver medal from Pat Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committee. “You’ve got to take it as it comes, but it was a close fight. I thought I’d done enough to win it in the second and third round. He was holding on at that stage, as if he didn’t want to know. I just gave it 110 per cent in the ring. That’s all the coaches ask of me, and I’m happy enough about that, and how I’ve come on.”

More experience

Sagaluev took the first round (30-27), before things went a little wild in the second, both fighters throwing repeated combinations in an effort to break the other. Still, the Russian was awarded that round too, just about, 29-28, and although Irvine won the third, he lost out on the split decision.

“I was a bit nervous coming out at the start,” added Irvine. “And I adapted in the second, and the third. And it got a bit wild in the second round, punches flying from everywhere. That’s the way it goes. But I thought I’d done enough to win.

“He finished strong, but then I matched him, and finished stronger. And I thought I won the last round. He was tiring quite a bit, and my fitness just overtook his.

“But I’m proud of my achievement. I’m only 19 years of age, and it’s my first senior competition for Ireland. So there’s a lot of positives to take out of it. A few negative things too, but I’ll got back to the gym, and learn from it.

He admits that Barnes has been and still is a hero of his, although it may be that to give himself a better chance of making it to Rio, Irvine will move up to flyweight.

Irish coach Billy Walsh says nothing is certain yet, except that Irvine won’t really reach his full potential until Tokyo 2020.

“Yeah, I’ll sit down with my team and coaches and decide with them,” said Irvine. “I’ll just see how it goes, but I would definitely like to make it to Rio, yeah. I wanted to win the gold medal here, but it wasn’t to be.”

Home crowd

Katie Taylor

There has been some talk around Baku this week of talk of “home” decisions, and while not every boxer from Azerbaijan has been winning against expectation, Taylor won’t be taking any chances. If she boxes to her full potential she should definitely win.

“I’ve boxed many people, in their own backyard, plenty of times,” said Taylor. “In China, I boxed a Chinese girl, in the final of a World Championship. I boxed Russians, in their home nations. I actually enjoy it. The atmosphere is going to be fantastic, and these are the kind of fights I cherish.

“There’s nothing I can do about the judging, or it being their backyard, or to change the home crowd. I just go in and try to do my best, go into every fight trying to win as easy as I can. She (Alekseevna) is a very clever boxer, so these are the kind of fights that I love.”

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