Road to London starts for determined O’Neill

DARREN O’NEILL has dreamed about boxing in the Olympics for a long time and his dream turned to frustration in 2008 when he watched Kenneth Egan being awarded his silver medal at the Beijing Olympics.

“I had beaten three of the four boxers on the podium that day,” he recalled. “The only one I had not beaten was Kenny. It probably made me more determined.”

For the Irish boxers, Olympic qualification begins this weekend when the preliminary rounds of the Elite national senior championships will be decided tomorrow and Saturday.

While it appears that seeding will be operated at tomorrow’s draw, few will escape the action over the two evenings on account of the huge entry.

Last year O’Neill touched gloves with up and coming Donegal man, Jason Quigley, in the final. Quigley had just won a European junior title but the Paulstown man was too experienced and went on to claim his second successive title.

He had to wait a long time for his first. Kenneth Egan ruled the roost when he boxed at light heavyweight and then, when he (O’Neill) dropped down to middleweight, the late Darren Sutherland deprived him of his shot at the Olympics.

But it all came good last year when he won a silver medal at the European senior championships in Moscow.

Olympic qualification is his target this year but he is not looking beyond those championships.

“You just cannot take anything for granted in this game,” he said. “Luck can play a big part and there is always somebody new.

“But I don’t concentrate on my opponents. I just think about myself and getting myself into the best possible shape. I have done that. Training has gone very well. I have had a relatively long injury-free stretch. Your hands are always going to hurt when you hit so hard. It is just a case of managing that now and preventing injury.”

Tommy McCarthy (Oliver Plunkett), a former world junior bronze medallist, lost to Kenny Egan in the last two light heavyweight finals but he has moved up to heavyweight this year where the division is ruled by Con Sheehan from Clonmel. Another interesting entry is Patrick O’Shea (Army/Sunnyside) who won a silver medal at last year’s world military championships.

Kenny Egan will be going for a sensational 11th senior title in a row and he faces a big threat this time around from the young Moate man, Joe Ward, who is still just 17. In the past two years Ward won world titles at under-16 and under-17 level..

“All the divisions are awash with Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth medallists,” Irish Head Coach, Billy Walsh, said. “And this is a big year for them all.

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