Not once, but twice did Ireland finish ahead of the United States on the medals table in major international competitions.
Ken Egan, Ray Moylett and Katie Taylor were just some of the names behind the Irish success in the unpaid ranks.
Egan’s silver medal in the light heavyweight division at the Beijing Games last summer punctuated the best Irish Olympic performance since 1956. There were also bronze medals for light flyweight Paddy Barnes and middleweight Darren Sutherland, bringing the Irish haul to three — two more than the U.S. could muster.
The Irish record in Olympic boxing is the four medals captured at the 1956 Games in Melbourne where welterweight Fred Tiedt took silver, while Tony Byrne [lightweight], Fred Gilroy [bantamweight] and John Caldwell [flyweight] all returned as bronze medalists.
While the 26-year-old Sutherland has since made a successful jump to the pro ranks, Egan, who’s the same age, has opted to stay in the amateur game and take another crack at Olympic glory.
“This is my decision, I’m sticking by it 100 percent for the next four years,” Egan said last week, disclosing that he’d spurned offers from three promoters to turn pro in favor of an improved deal with the Irish Sports Council.
On his chances of staying on top and qualifying for the London Games in 2012, Egan noted: “There are going to be young lads coming through the ranks who will be nipping at my heels but it is up to me to try and put the hard work in and go out there.”
Indeed, exciting new blood is already percolating through. The pick of the litter trained by youth coach Jim Moore, New York-based professional James Moore’s dad, is Ray Moylett.
Out of the St. Anne’s Club in Mayo, Moylett became Ireland’s first youth world champion last month after clinching the 60Kg gold medal at the inaugural AIBA championships in Mexico.
Dublin light welterweight Jamie Kavanagh added a silver medal while light heavyweight Thomas McCarthy and welterweight David Joyce both picked up bronze as Ireland placed fourth out of 68 nations in Mexico. The U.S. finished fifth.
Moylett, who’s 18, is now an early Irish medal hope for the next Olympics. A boxer since age six, he has a bright future ahead of him.
So does Katie Taylor, the multi-talented Bray native who’s arguably regarded as the world’s top female amateur pugilist.
The 22 year-old Taylor, a soccer star as well with some 40 caps for Ireland at different levels, retained her world lightweight title at the 5th AIBA Women’s Championships in China last month. She also won the “Boxer of the Tournament” award.
And what exactly was the secret behind Ireland’s emergence as an amateur boxing power these past 12 months? Most credit the Irish Amateur Boxing Association’s [IABA] High Performance Program. It’s evidently become a conveyor belt for talent such as Egan, Moylett, Taylor and other prospects.
Egan acknowledges that it’s made him a better fighter.
“I’ve learned so much through the High Performance [unit] over the past five years,” he said. “Through the [program] I’ve gotten better, much better, and I have to hold that to my coaches Billy [Walsh] and Gary [Keegan], who set up the whole thing, too.”