IRELAND’S two most experienced Olympic boxers, Kenneth Egan and Darren Sutherland, are hoping that the IABA’s High Performance Director, Gary Keegan, will have the required accreditation to be with them at the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.
It is generally accepted that Ireland’s best chance of an Olympic medal lies within the five-man team of boxers who have battled their way through to Olympic qualification.
While light flyweight, Paddy Barnes, qualified at the world championships in Chicago last year, John Joe Nevin (Pescara), Egan, Sutherland and John Joe Joyce (Athens) took the scenic route and not only gained qualification, but won gold medals at both European tournaments.
And yesterday when the team was introduced to the new Sports Minister Martin Cullen at the National Stadium prior to their departure for the EU Cchampionships, Egan and Sutherland highlighted the role Keegan had played in getting five boxers qualified for the Olympics and the importance of having him available to them in the boxing arena in Athens.
“It is important that we have him with us in the Village,” Egan said. “He has been part of the team for the past five years — he has always been ringside and you can hear him shouting orders and encouragement and I just cannot imagine what it would be like without him.
“Apart from all that, he has organised everything — camps, tournaments, training sessions and he always got us to the competitions that we needed, getting us the experience we needed.
“But we cannot take anything away from the other two lads (head coach Billy Walsh and his assistant, Zaur Antia) and what they have done for us. But he was the one who put them in place as part of the whole High Performance Programme which got us to where we are right now — qualified for the Olympic Games.”
“Gary is the driving force behind the whole High Performance,” Sutherland said. “It would be a big shame if we could not have him as close to us as possible for what will be the biggest moment of our lives.
“I believe they have put an excellent system in place which means that we will have a base to ourselves when needed just a short walk away from the Olympic Village where we can all go and relax and chill out if things get a bit much for us.
“They have described it as a home away from home where we will have familiar faces of Scott our physio who knows us inside out and Gerry Hussey our sports psychologist — in a way a little island outside of the Olympic Village.
“I just can’t wait to get out there now. It is starting to build up a little bit. People are talking about it and I am getting hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I just want to be there in the Olympic Village with all those athletes that I admire and respect from all the disciplines.”
He was referring to the apartment which High Performance has rented for the Games close to the Olympic Village where the Irish boxers can go to relax in familiar surroundings — watch their own DVD’s and eat European food if they desire.
“They can chill out in a very informal and friendly atmosphere,” Gary Keegan said.
“Our sports psychologist and our physiotherapist will be there if needed as an addition to the very excellent medical and physiotherapy team that the OCI have in place.
“It put an extra strain on our budget but we were able to stretch it and we feel that it will be money very well spent.”
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