27 February, 2011

2012 Olympic Boxing: Children of the revolution:

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Olympic medalist Egan (right) loses National Title for first time  in 12 years
Ken Egan says he may have to step up a weight division if he hopes to reach the London Olympics next year. The 2008 Olympic Light-Heavyweight silver medalist lost his National Title for the first time in 12 years on Friday. The 29 year-old lost a wide points decision (11-6) to a man who was just six years old when Egan won his first National Title. But, he's been coming for Egan. 
Egan in '08: sudden stardom led to severe alcohol problem
Three years ago, Kenny Egan became a national hero. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that he virtually kick-started the remarkable surge which has seen Irish amateur boxing become the jewel in the national sporting crown. Egan's performances in Beijing set the tone for an Irish team performance which sent confidence coursing through the sport at all levels. Joe Ward was 14 at the time. He hadn't lost a fight since he was 10 years old. As he watched Egan's Olympic heroics, did he think that he would be the first Irish fighter to beat Egan since the Neilstown man was 18 years old? Hardly. Destiny was arranging a date between them all the same. Two years ago, Ward won the world under 17 light-middleweight title, overwhelming the best that Russia and Cuba had to offer. As Egan coped with the pressures of sudden and unexpected fame and a drink problem, the kid was gaining on him. Last year Ward, just 16, won the world under-19 middleweight title. From Light-middle to middle, the boy was growing. By the turn of this year he would be light-heavy, the same weight division as one Kenneth Egan.
Is this image from Fiday night Ken Egan leaving centre stage for good?
Irish boxing is not short of wunder kinds but they had never seen anything remotely like their young double junior world champion. Ward is a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime talent.
That's why there was so much anticipation on Friday night in the National Stadium as the old hand took on the young pretender. Yet it appeared unlikely that Ward would prevent Egan from winning a record 11th national title in a row. Egan was 1/5 with the bookies, Ward 3/1. For all his promise, Ward still seemed a child in comparison to one of the greatest amateur boxers this country has ever produced, a man with very real prospects of winning a medal next year in London, a man good enough last year to win a European bronze, even when not at his best. 
Yet, with remarkable candour and confidence for a teenager, Ward insisted all week that he could win this one. And from the opening bell it was amazing to see the younger man setting the pace, bullying Egan physically and showing absolutely no respect for the reputation of his illustrious opponent. Perhaps the most powerfully built boxer on show, Ward fights with a single-minded intensity which threw Egan off his stride. The Moate man was showing that he could win. Whether he would win remained to be seen. A warning against Egan for dropping the head cost the champion two points and left the scores 4-4 going into the final round.

And what a final round. When Ward put Egan down with a terrific left hook, the Stadium erupted. It was a noise which contained a degree of wonder, an amount of amazement and above all a realisation that this was one of those magical moments in sport when history was being made. The momentum had shifted, the torch was being passed and Joe Ward, visibly growing in confidence now, was coming into his kingdom. His followers, the most passionate of the night, were jumping up and down in the aisles and throwing every punch with Joe. Long before the bell went and the referee raised Ward's hand in victory, we knew we were witnessing something very special. Kenny Egan knows that boxing is the cruelest of cruel sports and when your time is up, your time is up. "The king is dead, long live the king."
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