Irish trio win European quarter-final clashes
Tuesday, 8 June 2010 19:28
by Niall O'Flynn
Ireland's boxers will leave Moscow with three bronze medals - at the very least - after a pulsating day of quarter-finals at the European Boxing Championships.
Ken Egan, Darren O'Neill and Tyrone McCullagh have all qualified for the European semi-finals and will have the chance to box for gold or silver, following three sensational wins on Tuesday afternoon at the Ice Palace in Moscow.
The bout of the day featured Kilkenny's Darren O'Neill against Sergey Derevyanchenko, of Ukraine, a bronze medallist at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago, and now one of the best middleweights in the world.
This was a slugfest, with the Ukrainian chasing O'Neill from the start, hammering him with body punches and uppercuts. O'Neill, however, was controlled, intelligent, defending stoutly, absorbing the punishment, then picking his shots with great timing and accuracy.
Three-three after round two, the two men went point for point. In the third and final round, with less than 15 seconds to go, the score was level at six all. But O'Neill took his chance, stepped in and scored on the buzzer, 7-6.
The Irishman, who doubles as a teacher in a north Dublin school, was battered, bruised and bleeding - but he has, at 24, the medal that he's wanted his whole career.
Afterwards, an emotional O'Neill, who missed out on going to the Beijing Olympics, and lost in the quarter-finals of the 2006 Europeans and the 2009 Worlds, said this medal made all the disappointments, and all the hard work, worthwhile. Bleeding freely from cuts on his face, he quipped philosophically: 'Scars are proof that the past happened.'
Next into the ring was the Irish captain, Ken Egan. The Olympic silver medallist started as favourite, but faced the very difficult, and very tall, Ainar Karlson of Estonia, a martial arts expert, better known as a kick boxer, who upset one of the favourites, Ukrainian Alex Gvozdik, in the first round.
Egan, however, was calmness personified, moving into a 7-4 lead with just over a minute to go. The 28-year-old Neilstown man, who won European bronze in Bulgaria in 2006, held that lead to the end, and earned himself a place in the semi-finals, and will now fight to upgrade a second certain bronze to a medal of a higher colour. 'There's life in the old dog yet,' said a delighted Egan afterwards. 'That's another medal for the collection.'
19-year-old Tyrone McCullagh, the surprise package of the Irish squad, also took his big chance. In only his second senior international fight, the Derry youngster was a 6-3 winner over Azat Hovhannisyan, of Armenia. The young star said he could now enjoy his semi-final. 'The pressure's off,' he grinned.
The three Irishmen will now fight in the semi-finals on Friday.
In the fourth bout involving an Irishman, John Joe Joyce unfortunately went down to Taras Shelestyuk, of the Ukraine, by a scoreline of 9-1.
Ireland and Russia now top the medals table, with three medals apiece. And, incredibly, three more Irishmen will have the chance on Wednesday to join Egan, O'Neill and McCullagh in the semis.
There are great hopes still for Paddy Barnes, John Joe Nevin and Eric Donovan, and a strong belief in the Irish camp that this team can top the Irish performance at the last European championships, in Liverpool in 2006, when the team won three bronze medals.
Highlights of those remaining quarter-final bouts can be seen on RTE television on Wednesday evening.