Ring of confidence

In a time of downturn and gloom in Ireland, there are growth areas.

Inspired by Ireland’s Olympians, the next generation are stepping into the ring, and the stars of today are nurturing that talent, writes Alan Smith

INSPIRE a generation. It was the mantra which resided stoically in the shadows as Team Ireland’s boxers, led by Katie Taylor, became heroes at the Olympics. Now, just four months on from those glorious summer evenings where they instilled a sense of pride that hasn’t been felt for quite some time on these shores, the youth are being roused into action. The Games’ intonation is bearing fruit.

Boxing clubs have seen a surge in youngsters wanting to become the next Taylor, John Joe Nevin or Michael Conlan — with a huge spike in girls taking a trip to their local gym, in particular. At the Rochestown Park Hotel the weekend before last, on a card brimful of hardened amateurs and novices alike, there were evident signs of the lasting impact of Team Ireland’s achievements.

John Joe Joyce, a veteran of the 2008 Olympics, was the big name in action, with his national welterweight rival Adam Nolan casting a keen eye over proceedings ringside in an event organised by the Rylane and Garda clubs. But the abiding memory of the evening came from a debutant who gave a little taste of what the future may offer.

With about one fifth of those in attendance under the age of 18, those who arrived in time for the first bout were treated to a glimpse of what the Olympic legacy could produce in the long term. A Rylane youngster by the name of Jordan Dalton stepped inside the ropes as the crowd were still filtering in and displayed a level of experience way beyond his tender years when defeating Londoner Kane Korby in the Boys 46kg category.

Joyce, who took up the sport when he was only 11, said Dalton “looked like he was twentysomething getting into the ring” and “displayed a maturity beyond his years”, but the wider point is that, at a time that the country’s mood remains staggeringly low, boxing is providing a positive outlet for our disenchanted youth.

Having witnessed the adulation bestowed upon the Olympians in August, it’s no surprise there has been a surge in participation, but as Joyce pronounces, enjoyment should be the priority for newcomers.

“The most important thing is for these young lads to go out and like being in the ring,” the Athy man, who returned to the ring after six weeks out with an elbow injury to defeat London-based Carl Ozimkowski over three rounds on the night.

“I told a couple of them to just go out and do the basics and make sure they take something from it. Start slowly, make sure to keep the hands up and just jab. Starting off, it should all be about enjoyment.”

Nolan, meanwhile, thinks the success of London can only have a positive effect on the sport. He experienced first-hand the frenzied reaction in the ExCel Arena — he describes walking towards the ring and hearing the Irish contingent bellow his name as “the most daunting and nerve-racking moment he has ever experienced” — and has little doubt plenty of those inspired by the summer will go on to become Olympians.

“Boxing is only going to get stronger in this country now,” he says. “With Katie winning gold, it’s made a lot of nine and 10 year olds want to join their local boxing clubs and that’s good because it will keep them off the streets and teach them a sense of discipline. I’ve no doubt some of these young lads will be representing Ireland in 2016 or 2020.”

Although Joyce admits he is still learning, 14 years into his own career, there is an onus on the more experienced fighters to become role models to the next generation.

YET the problem that exists across all sports, keeping kids interested when other temptations line up in front of them, will remain despite the heightened interest in competing.

“I try to give them advice and I would look out for them as well,” Joyce adds. “I’ve seen lads from 11 to 16 lose, lose, lose and then it all changes. It’s around 16 or 17 that the important stuff kicks in but then the problem is keeping them interested when women and drink come into it.

“The trainers can’t babysit lads 24 hours a day. I’ve cousins who were probably better than me coming up through our teenage years but packed it in and now they’re regretting it.

“Life’s too short, it passes people by.”


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