Sunday 20 October 2019

Book review: History of boxing Olympians packs a powerful punch

Punching Above Their Weight
Punching Above Their Weight

Alan Aherne

Have you ever watched a match in its entirety after the event with full prior knowledge of the outcome, or perhaps read a newspaper preview of a game a few days later?

I do both on a regular basis, because the nature of my work dictates that the weekends are extremely busy. Therefore, newspapers must be put to one side, and the Sky Plus is filled with match after match, until the dreaded deadlines have passed and there is some time to relax and catch up.

Some readers may experience a similar type of feeling if they purchase 'Punching Above Their Weight - The Irish Olympic Boxing Story' which is written by Seán McGoldrick, a widely-respected sports journalist from Leitrim who spent many years with the Sligo Champion and later the now defunct Irish Press before linking up with the Sunday World.

The timing of the Billy Walsh saga was extremely unfortunate for the purposes of this publication in one sense as it hit the bookshelves early last month, having been put to bed after the European Games in Baku in June.

Some might argue that it's out of date already as a result, but I have an entirely different view after reading the book from cover to cover.

Because it was written before matters between Billy and the I.A.B.A. came to a head, in my view it's essential reading to get a true idea of just how much has been achieved by the High Performance Unit, not to mention the petty politics besmirching boxing for so long.

The author didn't have the opportunity of tailoring his prose to suit the prevailing mood in the wake of Billy's departure even if he so desired. Instead this is a straight up, nuts and bolts look at the good and the bad beforehand, and it's up to the reader to form their own view on whether or not the situation behind the scenes had been well managed in the years and months preceding the sad events of more recent times.

This book isn't just confined to the medals-laden last decade though. It is billed as a complete history of Irish boxers in the Olympics, and it doesn't disappoint in that regard as it also serves as an interesting look back for people who may not be as well acquainted with some of our best pugilists of bygone days.

For example, Belfast produced more than its fair share of champion fighters long before Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan started flying the flag for the city with such distinction, and their exploits are covered in considerable detail.

One common theme running through the book from the earliest days to here and now is the number of controversial judging decisions which have dogged the sport. While the system deployed has been improved down through the years, it's still not an uncommon occurrence to see a boxer being treated unjustly in the ring.

Clearly it requires a tremendous amount of discipline to make it in this toughest sport at the highest level; I've always felt that the most difficult aspect of all must be how to keep one's composure after being on the wrong end of a deplorable judging decision.

Naturally enough the exploits of Billy Walsh both inside and outside the ring are covered extensively, and the huge role played by Georgian Zaur Antia as his right-hand man with the High Performance Unit is quite clear in the favourable comments directed towards him by many who have prospered under his guidance.

The sport of boxing has been tarnished by recent events, but this book is a fine contribution to its rich history in this country.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

Wexford People