Irish boxer Darren O'Neill, who was speaking at an Electric Ireland event yesterday to mark 100 days until the Olympics begin. Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
London 2012

O’Neill: Ward will be back in 2016, but the clock is ticking for Joyce

Olympic boxing hopeful Darren O’Neill has been keeping a close eye on his fellow countrymen at this week’s final qualifying tournament in Trabzon, Turkey.

DARREN O’NEILL FEARS that David Oliver Joyce may have let the Olympic dream slip through his gloves for the final time.

The St Michael’s Athy boxer was just one win away from booking his place in London but fell lost 19-10 in his quarter-final against Lithuanian lightweight Evaldas Petrauskas in Trabzon yesterday.

There was better news for Beijing bronze medallist Paddy Barnes who joins O’Neill, Michael Conlan and John Joe Nevin in the Irish Olympic squad after a 17-9 win against Steffan Caslarov in the light-flyweights, while Adam Nolan and Tommy McCarthy both moved one fight closer to qualification with wins.

But it was heartbreak all over again for Joyce who had already come agonisingly close to an Olympic place, only to be denied when he was docked points in the final seconds of a bout at the World Championships in Baku last year.

His hopes of getting to London seemed to disappear altogether when he lost to Michael McDonagh in the national championship final, but he was handed one last lifeline when McDonagh pulled out of the Irish team for this week’s qualifier.

With four Olympic places on offer, reaching the semi-finals would have been enough for Joyce. To come so close and miss out yet again will be hard to take, O’Neill feels.

“With the numbers that were left in Davey’s weight, you would’ve been hopeful,” O’Neill tells “It’s just unfortunate to be beaten in the qualifying fight yet again.

It’s gut-wrenching. With four seconds to go in the World Championships, he got a public warning to stop him from qualifying. He thought his chance was gone after the national championships, so then to come back and get to the quarter-finals again, it’s gut-wrenching.

Now 25, Joyce will have turned 29 by the time the Rio Olympics roll around in 2016, and O’Neill isn’t sure if his team-mate will still be ducking punches by then.

“How do you pick yourself up? It’s the hardest thing to do. Unfortunately it’s hard as a sport, you have to take the good with the bad.

“It’s going to be hard for him – where do you go from here? He’s 25 years of age. Is he going to stick for another four years or what are his plans? Only Davey can answer that.”

Joe won’t go

Joyce’s defeat means that four of the Irish hopefuls have now fallen short in Trabzon this week with Ross Hickey, Con Sheehan and Joe Ward also missing out.

Ward’s defeat to Bahram Muzaffer of Turkey on Monday was the biggest shock of all with many expecting the Moate southpaw to challenge for light-heavyweight honours this summer. The shock and the surrounding controversy could disrupt the team’s remaining boxers, O’Neill says, having been in similar situation himself in Azerbaijan last year.

Back in October, Joe again was a cert to qualify for us. John Joe Nevin and I arrived down to the stadium for our qualifying fights; Joe was getting out of the ring as we arrived, having been beaten. It shook us. It does play games with the mind and we had to refocus ourselves so hopefully the boys will be doing the same.

Drawn to face a Turkish fighter on home soil, Ward would’ve known that the odds were stacked against him on the judges’ scorecards, he adds.

“Everybody complained about the [2008] Olympic final between Kenny and the Chinese. If you look back to Roy Jones Jr in Seoul, it was absolutely crazy, he nearly killed a man.

“It’s part and parcel of it. Joe knew going into the fight that he was going to have to win it by a big score just to get through by a small score.”

The chatter has since focused on whether or not Ward will give up on his Olympic dreams and turn professional. If anything, O’Neill says, this week’s setback will only strengthen the youngster’s determination to win gold for Ireland.

I don’t think he’ll go pro. I think if he had qualified for the Olympics, maybe he would have went then, but I think he wants to go to the Olympics. I think he’ll stick about for four years.

In four years’ time, Joe will be an unbelievable force. He already is, but in four years’ time, it’s going to be phenomenal. It will be hard to see him beaten.

“But the Irish Association and the Olympic Council are going to do everything they possibly can to get him in these back doors. I won’t rule out that he’s going to London yet.

“If he does qualify, he’ll probably go on and win the gold. I wouldn’t like to get through that way myself, but having said that, qualifying is the main thing and you don’t care how you get there.”

Joe Ward can still win gold at two Games, advises Michael Carruth