Darren’s Olympic dream comes true

DARREN O’Neill can start dreaming of Olympic glory.

DARREN O’Neill can start dreaming of Olympic glory.

The Paulstown boxer made sure of his place at the London 2012 Games when he beat Mladen Manev in the World men’s championships in Baku, Azerbaijan yesterday (Tuesday).

O’Neill’s 19-12 win over the Bulgarian in the last 16 of the championships was enough to ensure he will be at world’s biggest sporting event next Summer.

Showing great strength with his body punches, O’Neill took a 6-4 lead at the end of the first round. He fared even better in the second, picking off his opponent with right and left hooks to move 13-9 in front.

Manev, a fighter O’Neill beat en-route to a silver medal at the European Elite Championships in Moscow in 2010, was forced to go on the offensive in the third round. He managed just three points to O’Neill’s six, leaving the result in no doubt.

The victory was O’Neill’s third in the competition. It booked his place in the last eight of the 75kg (middleweight) category and guaranteed him a ticket to the Olympic Games.

He started with a comprehensive 16-5 win over Norway’s Glodi Eneste on Saturday. He had a trickier time getting past the two-time Olympian Mohamad Hikal from Egypt on a 15-13 scoreline in the last 32 on Monday.

This will be the 25-year-olds first appearance at the Olympic Games. He was pipped for a spot on the Irish team in 2008 by the late Darren Sutherland.

O’Neill, the current Hotel Kilkenny and Kilkenny People sports star of the year, is a three-time national middleweight champion. He was the first Irish boxer to book his place at next year’s Olympics.

He was part of a 10-strong team in Azerbaijan, along with Olympic medallists Paddy Barnes and Ken Egan.

A primary school teacher based in Dublin, O’Neill is the son of Ollie and Carmel O’Neill. He is the latest in a line of Kilkenny athletes who featured at the Olympics, following in the footsteps of Eileen O’Keeffe, Marion Hughes, Adrian O’Dwyer and Joanne Cuddihy.