TOUTED AS the dark horse in advance of the final European qualifier, The Ballagh native Adam Nolan lived up to the billing in ensuring his place in the London Olympics at the end of July.
Having taken four years out from boxing to concentrate on his studies, before joining the Garda force, Nolan returned to the ring in 2008, taking his family and supporters from the small half-parish of Oulart on what can best be described as an unbelievable journey.
Now fighting out of Bray Boxing Club, as he is based as a Garda in the seaside town, Nolan has come under the guidance of Pete Taylor, Katie Taylor's father, in what has been a remarkable 18 months by booking his place in London. 'It's unbelievable, a boyhood dream to compete in the Olympics. I just can't believe it. I'm ecstatic,' said the breathless Nolan, after qualifying on Friday afternoon.
Ireland's competitive domestic welterweight scene primed him for the heroics, as his historic semi-final 19-10 victory over Romania's two-time Olympian Ionut Gheorge secured his final spot with Germany's Patrick Wojcicki. The national 69 kg. champion was confidence personified through his semi-final bout, adopting a southpaw stance for the most part, but he often led with a snapping left as he took all three rounds against Gheorge, a tactic which was masterminded by coaches
Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia.
'It worked well, Billy and Zaur told me he was tailormade for my backhand. I have a long left hand - whether it was body or head I couldn't miss him with it,' said Adam.
Having taken the first round 7-5, Nolan's broad stance helped him to stay out of reach of his opponent while he continued to pick off Gheorge. He increased his lead after the second to 15-8 before a more cautious approach in the final round ensured him victory.
'I covered up there near the end and was wishing for the bell to come. I thought it would never come,' added Adam.'i beat a quality opponent, he's boxed in two Olympics but I knew if I boxed the way I could box i'd have a great chance. Everything went to plan.'
His win was greeted with a yelp of 'ye boy, ye' from Walsh in the blue Irish corner as the former Oulart-the Ballagh hurler Nolan follows in the footsteps of his coach, who was the last Wexford fighter to compete in the Olympics.
The trainer and fighter share a special bond having worked together in Nolan's youth and Walsh, who bowed out in the first round at the '88 Seoul Olympics, backed the Bray-based Garda to improve his county's record in London.
'From a personal point of view, as a Wexford man and having trained him as an 11-year-old, it's a fantastic result,' said Walsh. 'I know his family so well, they're a big G.A.A. family and it's massive for Wexford because we haven't had a lot of sporting success for a number of years.'
'I'll celebrate this with my family, friends and team now for a couple of days, then I'll sit down with my boss and see what's going to happen,' explained Nolan.
Twenty-four hours after securing his place at the Olympics, Nolan took to the ring in the final where he displayed skill and courage, defeating Germany's Patrick Wojcicki on a countback having drawn 1414.
The Bray-based Garda will look at his personal commitments after some well-earned celebrations having arrived back on Irish soil sporting his gold medal.
For Billy Walsh (top left with Adam), Head Coach of the High Performance Programme (H.P.P.), his own personal dream was realised when Nolan qualified for the Olympics.
And while Walsh fervently wants all his boxers to do well internationally, he can surely be forgiven for having a particular soft spot for the 25-year-old Nolan.
A decade and a half ago, long before he headed up the H.P.P., Walsh was Nolan's original training mentor.