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Thursday 19 October 2017

Egan's ready to deliver 'A' game

Kenneth Egan is Ireland's new sporting hero. And rightly so.

He's a man apart. The Clondalkin boxer alone has kept Ireland in the hunt for gold at the 20th Olympiad in Beijing.

Tomorrow morning (Irish time) he'll step into the ring at the Workers Indoor Arena to meet Chinese champion Xiaoping Zhang in the final of the light-heavyweight division.

Kenneth has earned an Olympic silver medal, the fourth in Irish boxing history. Historians will tell you that only John McNally (1952), Fred Tiedt (1956) and Wayne McCullough (1992) have won silver for Ireland.

Michael Carruth remains the only Irish boxer to go one better and bring home gold.

But Michael, a friend of Kenneth's, would love to see the Neilstown club man become an Olympic champion.

He's advised Kenny on what to expect in the cauldron of Olympic competition. And he's been in touch with the Irish camp as the tournament has gone on sharing his analysis with his old friend Head Coach Billy Walsh.

Yesterday he watched Kenneth in action, delighted in what he saw and approved of charismatic Kenny's gentle fooling around in the aftermath of his victory over the British hopeful Tony Jeffries.

"We need him to take the pressure off himself," he said of Kenny.

Like the people around Kenny, Michael knows the pressure Egan put himself under in his efforts to get to Beijing. An eight times national champion, Ken Egan is already ranked fourth in the world and second in Europe, yet he missed out in Olympic qualification last October at the World Championships in Chicago. The story wasn't much better in Pescara in Italy in February when, yet again, Kenny missed the cut.

"The only thing that got to Kenny was Kenny himself," says Michael.

"But he won a bronze in the European Championships two years ago. This is no fluke."

But Kenneth Egan squared up to his problem. He identified the source and worked at putting things right.

"My self-belief is sky-high," he told me. "I've beaten half of the lads in the group. The rest of them I haven't met but I know them. I'm good to go."

Working with psychologist Gerry Hussey, who's also boxed, he sussed out the solution to his problem. "I have to bring my 'A' game to the table,"he told me. "Sometimes I leave it behind at the most crucial moment. I don't know what I'm thinking."

That indecision was a blip in a remarkable amateur career. As Egan's performances so far in this tournament have illustrated, he's going through a purple patch.

"We have the psychologist working with us," says Head Coach Billy Walsh.

"At the highest level of sport you want that extra one or two per cent. All the top sportsmen in the world come under mental strain and the guys who deal with it the best are the guys who come through."

Four bouts in Beijing with a total of 48 points scored with only seven conceded. This is the stuff of champions.

But before Kenny can claim the gold medal, there's the matter of four rounds with the Chinese champion Zhang to be disputed.

Zhang is no slouch. He's a big lad. Like Egan, he's 6ft 2in. He won silver at the Asian Championships in 2007. No one is predicting an easy victory for either boxer in the final.

"This is a fantastic moment for me," said Kenny yesterday after his win. "I gave it 100 per cent in there. It's been a long haul to get where I am. It has been a dream of mine to do this I just can't believe it right now."

Billy Walsh explains that coaches have to adapt the methodology of psychologists.

"You've got to try and make them (boxers) believe that they're capable of giving their best performance," he says.

"The best psychologist is the coach. You have to adjust to each individual," he claims.

"They're all different."

When the Irish boxers arrive home on Flight 4982 on Monday afternoon, they'll have three Olympic medals between them.

Thanks to the efforts of St Saviours OBA Dublin middleweight Darren Sutherland (26) and Holy Family club Belfast light flyweight Paddy Barnes (21) two will be bronze. The third one, carried by Irish team captain Kenny Egan, will be either silver or gold.

Kenneth has told the a story of when he was 10 years of age he watched Michael Carruth win a gold medal in Barcelona. "I said to myself, 'This is it now'," he recalled. "I went down to my local club in Neilstown and started off from there. Now I'm in this position.

"This is what it's all about. This is a dream. I'm in dreamland."

The Irish boxing community is a closeknit family. Egan is captain of an Irish team that is hugely talented. Three medals between five boxers.

And three or four Olympians young enough to benefit hugely from their Beijing experience.

The disappointment of not having registered on the scoreboard -- despite having obviously landed punches on target -- in his bout with Chinese champion Shiming Zou caused Paddy Barnes to voice concerns that he might not want to stay in the amateur sport if the scoring system is so flawed.

It is hoped the fiery Belfast man will reconsider his outburst when he calms down.

But our other defeated semi-finalist Darren Sutherland has announced he's quitting amateur status and turning pro.

Now all eyes are on Kenneth Egan's Olympic gold medal decider tomorrow against the Chinese champion on his own patch in front of thousands of fervent hometown fans. Not that Egan is likely to be fazed.

"It's an Olympic final," declares Michael Carruth. "And you have to be in it to win it."

Dubliner Kenny Egan has the skill, strength and stamina to take the gold. He's battled hard to get to these Beijing Games and he's boxed convincingly to reach the final. Also, he knows that, in his own words, he has "to bring his 'A' game to the table."

Sporting contests rarely come as exciting as this.

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