Ireland Hopes to Bring Home Gold in Boxing

Andrew BarrySenior Analyst IAugust 11, 2008

The Beijing Workers' Indoor Arena was built in 1961 to host the world table tennis championships, and after a two-year renovation for Olympic boxing it can cope with earthquakes registering up to eight on the Richter scale.

Just as well, because if Zou Shiming fulfills his promise and wins China's first gold medal in boxing the place will be shaken to its foundations. In the meantime, it's looking increasingly likely that the arena will also witness an Irish medal of some color.

We may be getting a little carried away, but it was hard not to be optimistic yesterday when Johnny Joyce coolly took apart Gyula Kate of Hungary. This was just 24 hours after Kenny Egan had done the same to Julius Jackson of the Virgin Islands.

With Paddy Barnes and Darren Sutherland getting byes into the second round, four of the five Irish boxers are two wins from a medal.

Truth is, Joyce was not meant to beat Kate. He'd lost their last three fights at light-welter, including a 32-17 beating at last year's World Championships. However, Joyce turned the tables this time, outsmarting Kate to win 9-5 and book his place in Thursday's second round.

"I'd been drawn against him so many times before in the first round, I just knew God would be on my side this time," said Joyce.

"Drawing him again, I knew God was testing me. This time, I brought my performance with me. I could have boxed better, but there were my tactics, to beat him, round by round.

"He's been my bogeyman...My goal here was to bring my fight to him, and as the fight went on, I got more and more confident. He's a big banger, but I let him chase me, that was the plan."

At 20, Joyce is six years younger than Kate, but looked more mature. His fight-retreat-cover tactic was superbly effective. Team coach Billy Walsh had warned him that this was his only way to win.

"I said to Johnny yesterday that if this guy beats you again he's going to bring you home and put you on the mantelpiece," said Walsh. "But he got everything right today."

In the vastness of the Workers' Arena the Irish support was typically vocal. Joyce could tell by the shouting he was in front, even if Walsh had tried to keep him calm.

"I know now, as the tournament goes on, the better I'll get. Especially after beating him, the way I did," said Joyce, who will next face 24-year-old Felix Diaz of the Dominican Republic, ranked ninth in Athens four years ago.

For Egan, Saturday's 22-2 victory over Jackson at light heavy had medal potential written all over it. He's also out again on Thursday against Bahram Muzaffer of Turkey—who claims he is "the best fighter in the division."

"Well, he's never fought Kenny before," said Walsh.

Egan was naturally buoyant, spurred on, he admitted, by the thought of his family watching from the stands. "They all must have got tickets at the last father, two brothers, and a lot of their mates. It's a great stadium, and the atmosphere is savage, but once you're in there, all you see is your opponent, and four ropes.

"That's the way you have to think. It's the Olympics, sure. But it's just another fight. It's all about the win, the 'W' after your name."