When they touched gloves in the finals of national senior championships in January at the National Stadium they brought the house down.
Victory for Sutherland that night sent him to the Olympic qualifying tournament in Pescara and O’Neill resigned himself to the fact that his great rival would qualify, but a bad decision went against the Dubliner and the former Kilkenny hurler was thrown another lifeline.
“Unfortunately things were not going well for me,” he said. “I took a short break after the seniors and was just a week and a half back in training when I injured my foot and ended up on crutches.
“Darren (Sutherland) will have benefited from the trip to Italy where he was involved in the qualifying tournament while I lost some time. But I’d like to think that the multi-nations in Zagreb will have brought me on.”
Another boxer facing an anxious wait is welter weight champion, Roy Sheahan. He was in the training camp in Italy putting the finishing touches to his preparations for the qualifier when he broke a bone in his hand. He won’t be competing in the box-offs but his trainer and coach, IABA President, Dominic O’Rourke, is hoping he will take his place at the qualifier in Athens on April 7.
“At the moment he is still in treatment for his damaged hand but all the reports are good,” said O’Rourke.
The fact that he does not compete in the box-offs could cause a problem and the Central Council meeting tomorrow morning will have to decide what happens.
The proposal to be put before that meeting is that if Roy Sheahan is fit he will go and whoever wins the box-off will be on standby.
Eric Donovan also won a gold medal in Zagreb and is ready to take his place in the box-offs which will be decided tonight and tomorrow when the four semi-finalists in the relevant weights will be eligible to try again.
So far two Irish boxers have qualified for Beijing — light flyweight Paddy Barnes claimed his place when he made the quarter finals at the world championships in Chicago and John Joe Nevin also qualified when he won the gold medal at bantamweight in Italy.
The semi-finalists who are eligible to take part in the box-offs are: Flyweight: C Ahern (Baldoyle), R Dalton (St John’s Antrim), J Conlon (St John Bosco); Featherweight: D Oliver Joyce (St Michael’s Athy), C Frampton (Midland White City), K Fennessy (Clonmel), E Touhey (Moate);
Lightweight: R. Hickey (Grangecon), E. Donovan (St Michael’s Athy), A. Cacace (Holy Trinity).
Light Welter: JJ Joyce (St Michael’s, J Murray (Gorey), J Kavanagh (Crumlin) P Sutcliffe (do).
Welterweight: R Sheahan (St Michael’s Athy), J J McDonagh (Brosna), W McLoughlin (Illies GG), R Brennan (Dealgan).
Middleweight: D Sutherland (St Saviours OBA), D O’Neill (Paulstown), S Shevlin (Dealgan), E Healy (Portlaoise).
Light Heavy: K Egan (Neilstown), M Mullaney (Claremorris), C Curtis (Dealgan), W Mitchell (Dromore).
Heavyweight: C Sheehan (Clonmel), T Sheahan (St Michael’s Athy), P Corcoran (Galway), W Byrne (Knocknagoshel).
Super Heavy: C McMonagle (Holy Trinity), A Vedernikov (Neilstown).