With Olympic qualification guaranteed by a place in the top eight, the 11-man squad had gone to Chicago with an ideal opportunity to book their places. But the wheels came off the wagon somewhere along the way.
They boarded the flight home with light fly Paddy Barnes the only one qualified. The main contenders would have to keep their bags packed for the grand tour that was the European qualifiers.
It worked out well in the end with five boxers qualified and all of them here in Beijing still in contention after a thrilling week at the Workers’ Gymnasium.
“After Chicago (world championships) we identified problems - the High Performance culture,” High Performance Director, Gary Keegan, recalled yesterday.
“They were problems that were caused by us trying to do everything right. We over-did it. We were acting like over-protective parents. We provided too many of the answers, came up with too many solutions for the boxers and, as a result, they stopped thinking for themselves. We needed not just to change that. We needed to reverse it.
“But we had to take a big risk. Obviously Olympic qualification was so important to them. When we went out to the world championships everybody felt this is a great opportunity — top eight in the world championships, we’ve been there before several times!
“It looked like we had an opportunity to get two or three qualified for the Olympics — it would be a great start. We saw the world championships as our best chance but it didn’t happen.’’
Keegan added: “When we came back from the worlds we had to stop. I said there is enough evaluation done on these guys. Now we need to look at ourselves and look at our contribution to what happened at the world championships.
“We did that, it took us a while and it was very difficult for individuals who believed that they were giving their best to critically assess themselves.
“But it was very effective. Once we got through that process we understood where we had gone wrong and we had to accept it. But where we went wrong was trying to do it right and I believe that was an OK mistake.’’
“We reversed things. We waited to see the change taking place. It was a big risk for us because we did not have a huge window. It was a very short space of time but I felt very strongly that we had no other option.
“While we were communicating with them they should be communicating with us and if they are not challenging in that communication then there is something wrong.
“We stopped providing the answers for the boxers and they started coming up with the answers themselves. Now Zaur (Antia) and Billy (Walsh) had done a lot of work with the guys so we knew that work was done.
“I said ‘you have taught them. Now let them go out and implement what you have taught them and let’s find out what they have actually learned.’ Then things started to really, really improve.”
The result went further than the gold four gold medals won at the qualifying tournaments in Pescara (John Joe Nevin) and Athens (Kenneth Egan, Darren Sutherland and Johnny Joyce). Along with Paddy Barnes, all five are in contention for places in the last eight in the tournament — one fight away from the medal-bouts.
Today Kenneth Egan and John Joe Joyce will box for those places. Egan faces a cocky Turk, Bahram Muzaffer, who would not be here at all were it not for the fact that the Ukrainian light heavyweight, Ismail Sillakh, was disqualified for a doping violation and then the first reserve, Anastasios Berdesis (Greece) was also thrown out for a doping offence. The fact that Muzaffer is just recovering from a broken hand will not help his cause.
John Joe Joyce meets Felix Diaz from the Dominican Republic. Ken Egan will go into the ring at about 8.15am (Irish time) while John Joe Joyce will box at about 1pm (Irish time).
“Let’s not talk about medals just yet,” Keegan said. “All I can say right now is that we are capable of performing and what we need to do is get our performances out there. If we can get our performance into the ring and produce it on the day we can win medals.”