Walsh: Door still open for Nevin, Barnes to fight at Euros

Olympic medallists John Joe Nevin and Paddy Barnes could still represent Ireland, despite missing this month’s National Championships.

Box-off? Barnes, left, and Nevin may have to fight for a place on the plane to Minsk.
Box-off? Barnes, left, and Nevin may have to fight for a place on the plane to Minsk.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

OLYMPIC BOXING MEDALLISTS John Joe Nevin and Paddy Barnes may have to fight for their place at the European Championships later this year.

Nevin, Barnes and Con Sheehan all pulled out of this month’s National Elite Championships due to injury and illness, surrendering their Irish senior titles without a fight.

In previous years the national champions in each weight division made up the squad for major tournaments, a move which could leave some top talents in danger of missing out on the action in Minsk this May. Alternatively, the Irish Amateur Boxing Association could call for a box-off before finalising their selection.

High performance head coach Billy Walsh says the door is still open for London heroes Nevin and Barnes although Sheehan, a former European Union champion, is a major doubt following surgery on a hand injury last week.

“We’ll have a review at the end of the National Championships to see who comes out, and at the end of the day, I want to see the best team on the plane,” Walsh said today at the launch of the Elverys Sports/Coaching Ireland partnership.

A lot will depend on the fighters’ fitness, Walsh added. Nevin is still waiting to learn the full extent of the hand injury that forced him out of his bantamweight title defence but Barnes, who was gunning for his seventh straight light-flyweight crown, has recovered from his bout of flu.

“There’s all sorts of possibilities,” Walsh said. “We’ve just got to see how long they’re going to be out and will they be at their best come European Championships in May.

“The guys that win the National Championships will be given an opportunity to go to the tournament in May and show what they can do. Let’s see where we go from there.”

After last week’s preliminary rounds, the National Championships resume with semi-finals tonight and tomorrow in the National Stadium. The finals were originally scheduled to take place in the Citywest Hotel next week before financial considerations forced the IABA into a u-turn.

“I thought the idea of moving to Citywest wasn’t a bad idea but we needed a few more months to market it and sell it properly,” Walsh said.

“I fought 10 senior finals in the Stadium, so it’s home for me. There’s a great atmosphere and we’ll have a great chance of filling that.”

One of the main draws on next week’s bill will be Katie Taylor’s return for her first fight since winning Olympic gold last summer. The news that this year’s European Championships, expected to be held in Dublin, had instead been cancelled cast a cloud over her plans for the year, particularly as both Taylor and her father Peter were unaware of the news before it was made public in an IABA press conference.

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Instead, Taylor will now focus on the European Union Championships in Hungary this June where she will bid for her fifth lightweight gold.

“The advice only arrived in the office that day, it just hadn’t come through to us at the time,” Walsh explained of the decision to cancel the Europeans. “The major tournament for women this year will be the European Championships in Hungary in June, so that’ll be Katie’s focus.

“We’ve sat down with Peter and we’re working on a plan to get to the European Unions and after that we’ll take a bit of a rest. We’ll focus on whatever needs to be focused on.

“Whatever the major competition this year is, she’ll make herself as good as she can be for that. Every time she goes out she wants to be the best.”

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