KILKENNY boxer, Darren O’Neill, will return from the Olympic Games having gone through the experience of a lifetime and with an unshaken belief that he was a real contender, writes John Knox.
The Paulstown fighter was beaten in his second fight by German, Stefan Hartel after he had out-classed Nigeria’s Muideen Akanji in an earlier round, but he will take home more good memories than bad from London.
“For me, the Olympics were the greatest experience ever,” insisted the vastly experienced international. “Even in defeat, you take something from them.
“My dream always was to get to the Olympics, and to win a major medal in boxing. I did both. I know I am good enough to win an Olympic medal.
Not best performance
“It was unfortunate the way things worked out, but the experience of being in the ring both days, and the reception I got, even in defeat, was very humbling. I will always carry some disappointment, but I am also delighted with having had the experience.”
O’Neill admitted, even days after the loss in the middleweight (75kgs) fight, that the disappointment was still acute.
“I did all I could,” was his summary when he looked back on the contest. “It wasn’t my best performance on the day. I had a bad first round against Hartel, but I left everything in the ring after that.
“I was a bit slow getting into the fight and I didn’t get my game plan going in the first round. I gave it everything I could after that. I have no regrets in that sense.
“Hartel was tough. He is good. He has a very good defence. I walk away with my head held high.”
Rather than feel sorry for himself, he gave credit to his opponent who came out and worked his rigid fight plan well.
“I would take nothing from him,” Darren insisted. “He is a good lad.”
And what of the future?
“I don’t know,” replied the 26-year old. “I will get back to family and friends and chill out for a while and then take things from there. I won’t rule anything in or out at this stage. I will see what way I feel in a few weeks.”
Although out of the hunt for honours, O’Neill remains captain of the successful, medal reaping Irish boxing team and with that comes certain responsibilities.
“It is an honour to be captain of such a wonderful team,” Darren said when we spoke after Katie Taylor had got among the medal winners. “To be captain with the likes of Paddy Barnes, a former medallist, John Joe Nevin, twice World and Olympic medallist, and Katie Taylor involved is phenomenal.
“I have great memories for the rest of my life,” said the Dublin based teacher.
Cuddihy bows out
Meanwhile, Kilkenny City Harriers 400m runner, Joanne Cuddihy, bowed out after a high class semi-final. She qualified as one of the fastest losers.
Joanne clocked 51.88 which she described as “okay”. He personal best time and Irish record for the 400m is 50.73 which she set in 2007.
“It was always going to be a massively outside shot to get into the final,” she admitted after finishing fifth in the semi.
She was drawn in lane two, and the plan was to run a cautious first half of the race and then give it everything in the kick to the finish.
“I was determined to finish strong and the idea was that other people in the race would start to die and that I could claw back into it. They didn’t die as much as I hoped.”
On Friday, Joanne will be in action with the Irish 4x400m relay team. Her sister, Catriona is also part of the relay squad.
The fourth Kilkenny Olympian, Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe will be in action in the men’s modern pentathlon on Saturday.