Irish Boxing: On the long road to Athens through Croatia
David Kelly Reports
21 December 2003
PAUL McCloskey believes he can make the Olympics at the first attempt.
Fresh from retaining his light-welterweight title on Friday at the Irish Seniors in the National Stadium, Dublin, McCloskey turned his sights to the European Championships in February.
The Europeans, being staged in Croatia, offer the first of three opportunities for Irish boxing's top dozen to try and make Athens with a semi-final and bronze medal securing a place on the team managed by Belfast's Sean Canavan.
"I want to get it over and done with because the longer it goes on it will get harder. Some would think it gets easier but with just a few slots left it means people are even hungrier," said McCloskey, who defeated Michael Kelly 17-16 to secure his third successive Irish title.
"I'm just glad to be there. It was all about getting the result on Friday night. I didn't think it was as close as the judges had it so it's just as well I turned it on in the last round and had him down.
"Now the pressure is off I can look ahead to the Europeans and I would expect that the Irish team will get together early next month."
McCloskey has grown in confidence over the past 18 months as he has been in with the very best in the world, including light-welter number one Willy Blain of France.
"I've faced the lot this year so I have the experience and I know I have matured at the weight, I'm feeling stronger. I just need a little bit of luck with the draw.
"And if we all get a bit of luck and fight to our potential then I think Ireland might get two or three there but it's going to be very, very hard."
Indeed, some feel it is harder getting to the Olympics than winning a medal, such is the hot competition in Europe. Nowhere else has such a stringent qualifying process.
Another man seeking to make an impact in Croatia will be Immaculata's Martin Lindsay, who claimed the Irish featherweight title with a sparkling performance against Moate's Eamonn Touhey, winning 17-8.
Lindsay showed his class as he comprehensively out-boxed Touhey but will have to raise his game even more to make Athens.
Ulster's two other winners were super-heavyweight Immaculata's Martin Rogan and Cavan's Andrew Murray at lightweight but sadly the Olympic dream is over for Holy Trinity bantamweight Brian Gillen.
Gillen was left stunned by the verdict in favour of young Eric Donovan and that shock result was matched by 2001 World bronze medallist Jim Moore's defeat at the hands of Henry Coyle, who received the Best Boxer award.