Nolan blazes trail to London Games

“THE heathers will be blazing in Wexford tonight,” Irish coach Billy Walsh predicted as he embraced fellow county man Adam Nolan, who yesterday became the second man from the Model County to qualify for an Olympic Games — Billy himself having qualified for the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

The Irish dressing room at the Hayri Gur Sports Hall was rocking to Dancing at The Crossroads.

Walsh explained: “I went down to the waterfront this morning and went for a walk — makes you feel like back home in Wexford walking along the quays — and I was thinking of Dancing at the Crossroads and we played that for Adam in the dressing room before he went out today.”

Nolan had just joined Kilkenny team mate, Darren O’Neill, John Joe Nevin from Mullingar, Beijing bronze medallist Paddy Barnes, and Belfast teenager, Michael Conlan, on the team for London 2012 while Katie Taylor is all set to join them from next month’s women’s world championships.

Dublin-based Garda Nolan was probably the least likely qualifier. Last year he won his first Irish senior welterweight title but he damaged a ligament in his knuckle three weeks later and missed the European championships and he was never going to be ready in time for the world championships.

It was only after heretained his national title in February that he became a full-time member of the High Performance squad under Billy Walsh whohad trained him to win his first Irish title as an 11 year-old.

And that early coaching that stood to him yesterday at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Trabzon when he went back to basics to hammer out a convincing 19-10 victory over the experienced Romanian, Ionut Gheorghe, had been to two Olympics and beat another Irishman, John Joe Joyce, at a Beijing qualifier in Pescara.

Nolan, however, gave him a lesson in boxing. Changing his tactics from the previous fight when his southpaw right jab worked wonders, he flicked out an accurate left jab that caught the Romanian every time.

“I had to change my tactics — I was boxing asouthpaw the last day so I had to go back to basics — to using my backhand.

My backhand worked well — Billy Walsh) told me he was tailormade for the backhand.”

The Romanian, frustrated by Nolan’s height and reach, eventually found a way through at the end of the first round.

“He was swinging hard and he caught me with a body shot that took the wind out of me a bit but he didn’t follow up — maybe I didn’t show that I was a little bit hurt — but he caught me with a good body shot and I took my foot off the gas a bit,” Nolan recalled.

“I thought the first round was close — but 7-5 up I was delighted with that. I knew I had a good second round but I couldn’t believe I was seven up (15-8). I knew he was going to come strong and I just had to stop him in his tracks.

“After the first 10 or 20 seconds of the third round I knew I had hurt him with my combinations. I knew he was going to rush me in the third round so I didn’t want him getting a couple of early scores. I caught him with a couple of good, early scores and I knew it was in the bag then — just not to get caught with any silly shots.

“I covered up near the end — wishing for the bell to come, I thought it would never come. I beat a quality opponent there — he’s boxed in two Olympics but I knew if I boxed the way I could box I would have a good chance. Everything went to plan.”

When he was sent to Dublin as a Garda his father John contacted Billy Walsh about a club and Walsh immediately sent him to Pete Taylor at Bray ABC where he honed his talents alongside Katie Taylor and he is now set to accompany her to the Olympic Games.

“I always wanted to win a senior title and then when you win one you always want to win another one and, being Olympic year, you want to go a step further,” he said.

“I always knew whoever came out of the welterweight division in Ireland would have a great chance of qualifying. It’s a tough division — four or five world class boys there.

Billy Walsh admitted that he was concerned about Nolan’s lack of experience. “If he could cope with the occasion we knew he could do it but, my God, did he do it — cope with the occasion and cope with everything,” he said.

Now guaranteed a silver medal at this tournament, his opponent for today’s final is Patrick Wojcicki (Germany) who recorded a rare victory over a Turk, Abdulkadir Koroglu.

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