Gold star O’Neill eager for winning home debut

DARREN O’NEILL tonight appears in an international vest at the National Stadium for the first time when he climbs into the ring against Poland.

The odds are in his favour because he beat his opponent, Sebastian Rzadkiewicz, 24-14 to win one of Ireland’s three gold medals at the recent Multi-Nations tournament in Ostrava where he also won the award for best boxer.

He has been a regular championship performer at the National Stadium, where he was runner-up to Kenneth Egan at light heavyweight at the last two senior championships.

It was only this year when he dropped down to middleweight to replace injured champion, Darren Sutherland, that he blossomed and went through to the business end of the tournament at the European Championships in Bulgaria.

He carried that form with him to Ostrava, beating Commonwealth Games champion, Jarrod Fletcher from Australia, en route to the final.

He was persuaded to drop a division only last summer by the IABA’s High Performance Director, Gary Keegan, who had discussed the situation with Head Coach, Billy Walsh.

“From all the tests we had done — body fats, etc — it became apparent that he was quite capable of dropping down a division,” Keegan said.

O’Neill recalled: “I was in the gym when Gary told me that if I could drop a weight, I would have a chance of going to the Europeans. I decided I’d go for it.”

When he moved up to light heavyweight, it was unintentional. He was just over an injury and not doing much training. It was the easy option.

“Then Andy Lee stepped up to 75 kg so the options now were not going to be great. Kenny was there at light heavy and, with Andy at middleweight, it was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire,” he said.

He was on the panel for this year’s Kilkenny under-21 All-Ireland winning team until he was offered the opportunity to go to the European senior championships.

The championships turned his career around. “I was starting to feel good — starting to box well.”

He is looking forward to renewing rivalry with Rzadkiewicz tonight and he has another engagement with him in Loughrea on Sunday night.

“It is going to be a good fight. We were close early on in Ostrava. I got away from him in the third and fourth rounds but he is very good.”

He knows that whatever happens, he has Darren Sutherland waiting for him in the long grass. Sutherland, reigning senior champion in this division, has not boxed since sustaining a eye injury against Russia last April but he is back training again and eager to defend his title come the New Year.

Meanwhile welterweight champion Roy Sheahan misses tonight’s international with a hand injury and his place goes to St Michael’s clubmate David Joyce.

Boxing schedule

Ireland v Poland, National Stadium, tonight (7.45 pm)

Light Fly: Jimmy Moore v Lukaxz Maszczyk.

Flyweight: Conor Ahern v Rafal Kaczor.

Bantam: Kevin Fennessy v Krzysztof Rogowski.

Feather: Eric Donovan v Michal Chudccki.

Lightweight: John Joe Joyce v Krzysztof Szot.

Light Welter: Dermot Hamill v Mariusz Koperski.

Welterweight: David Joyce v Michal Starbala and Terry O’Neill v Piotr Olejniczak.

Middleweight: Darren O’Neill v Sebastian Rzadkiewicz.

Light Heavy: Kenneth Egan v Mariusz Welc.

Ireland v Poland, Loughrea, Sunday (7.45 pm)

Light Fly: Paddy Barnes v Lukaxz Maszczyk.

Flyweight: Conor Ahern v Rafal Kaczor.

Bantam: Carl Frampton v Krzysztof Rogowski.

Lightweight: Kevin Doherty v Krzyszof Szot.

Light Welter: Aodh Carlyle v Mariusz Kiprski.

Welterweight: Terry O’Neill v Michal Starbala; David Joyce v Piotr Olejniczak.

Middle: Darren O’Neill v Sebastian Rzadkiewic;

Light Heavy: Kenneth Egan v Mariusz Welc.

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