‘World Championships? I just said, why not, sure’

Dean Gardiner comes across as the kind of guy who greets triumph and disaster with much the same shrug of the shoulders.

That sense of equilibrium is no bad thing, given most men would have been left floored by the sort of twists and turns he has experienced in recent months.

The Clonmel super-heavyweight will be part of a five-strong Irish team at the World Championships, which start in Hamburg on Friday, his berth secured only after Britain’s Frazer Clarke was ruled out through injury early last month.

“I was at home when I just got a phone call off Bernard [Dunne] and it was great news,” he explained rather nonchalantly. “I was just on the computer, just after coming back from doing a course. He just said: ‘Are you sitting down?’

“I said I was and he asked me what I thought about going to the World Championships and I just said, ‘why not, sure!”’

“It wasn’t a big shock, because these things happen in boxing and I was ready.”

Gardiner had kept himself in shape after his return from the European Championships, where he’d lost out to the eventual gold medallist, Ukraine’s Vitaly Vykhryst, in the last 16.

Back home on the Thursday, he was in the local gym by Monday working on his skills.

That hadn’t been his style previously, but he has learned that it pays to be ready.

Injured at the start of the year, he was unable to contest the national championships, but found himself in a box-off for a spot at the Euros after a difference of opinion over team selection that became the catalyst for the latest civil war within the ranks of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA).

Dunne, recently appointed as the IABA high-performance director, had chosen Martin Keenan to represent Ireland at the Euros at super-heavy. The IABA’s Central Council wanted Gardiner.

Cue the usual mess and bitterness that spilled through into the summer even after Gardiner had edged out a fuming Keenan in the box-off at the National Stadium at the end of May. Ukraine didn’t work out for him, but he didn’t let himself down in his one fight.

Gardiner had shocked Vykhryst in an Olympic qualifier in Azerbaijan back in 2015 and he was more than holding his own at the Euros this time until the 25-year southpaw and home favourite caught him with his hands down and punished him with a left hook.

“I was up in the judges’ scorecards and all. I was on top in the second round and I just got caught with a big shot. These things happen, especially at heavyweight boxing. It is what it is. I beat that guy in the qualifiers for the Olympics and I’m sure I can beat him again.”

It’s not like he has been parachuted in at the last minute. Gardiner has had seven weeks to prep for Hamburg. It will be his biggest championships to date and he joins an Irish team on a high again after the low of the Rio Olympics.

Joe Ward, who won his third European gold earlier this year, leads the quintet. Brendan Irvine and Kurt Walker, bronze medallists at flyweight and bantamweight at the Euros in Kharkiv, and Sean McComb (light-welterweight) complete the crew.

“I’m delighted for [Gardiner], because his preparation leading into the Europeans... he was under a lot of pressure and he really focused and was hugely impressive,” said Dunne.

“Training camp went really well over in the Ukraine. He got caught and it happens in boxing, especially in the super-heavyweights, when you’re in with the big boys. And he got caught clean, but he’d held his own up to that point in time and we firmly believe that, given the right opportunity, that he could do well out of the Worlds. No-one is going to want to box him. For a big man he has fabulous boxing ability.”

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