“A DREAM come true.” That was Brendan Irvine’s description of the moment he realised he had qualified for the Olympic Games thanks to his unanimous victory over Daniel Asenov in their third-place box-off at the European Olympic Qualifying Event in Samsun, Turkey on Saturday.
The 19 year-old became Ireland’s fifth boxer to book his place in Rio, but was followed the next day by David Oliver Joyce who, having missed out on Beijing and London, finally became an Olympian.
Both men had to regroup after semi-final defeats in the competition, but given the top three in each of the male weight classes advanced, both had a second chance and Irvine took his with both hands exactly 24 hours after suffering the disappointment of his loss against Armenia’s Narek Abgaryan on Friday.
“I was hoping to get it done the first day and qualify for the final, but unfortunately I started off a bit slow,” said the St Paul’s man.
“I had a brilliant second round and a good last round. I thought that was going to be enough to get me into the final, but unfortunately I fell short.”
The Glencolin man was to put things right the following day when, after another slow start, he went on to dominate Bulgaria’s Asenov for the remainder of the fight and also benefited when his opponent received a warning in the second.
“These things work themselves out and the next day I fought against a European champion,” continued ‘Wee Rooster’.
“Again, I started slow, but the second round was good and third round was good so thankfully I came out on top.”
It was certainly a nervous wait for the final result and Irvine admitted it seemed to take an eternity for the announcement.
“You don’t know what to expect,” he admitted.
“Your whole life flashes before your eyes and you are in a bit of a daze. Time seems to slow right down and you are looking around you thinking ‘am I going or what is happening here?’ To get that decision was unbelievable.”
While defeat wouldn’t have ended his Olympic dreams given there is a final world qualifier in June, the West Belfast flyweight is thankful to have his spot confirmed and take some time out before beginning his preparations for Rio.
“I just wanted to get it put to bed and make sure I was on the plane,” he reiterated.
“I didn’t want to be leaving it to the last minute and then you are rushing (to get ready for the Games). I just wanted it done this time and that was it.”
Irvine returned to a heroes’ welcome at Dublin Airport on Monday before making his way to The Devenish where family and friends were in attendance to greet him.
It had been a whirlwind 48 hours, but the West Belfast man says that it was beginning to sink in that he is now an Olympian since arriving on home soil.
“It sort of has now since I got home with the crowd and the whole buzz at the airport,” he agreed.
“I had friends and family down there and then you have everyone cheering you on, so it has started to sink in a bit. It’s still a bit surreal though.”
Of course, qualifying for the Olympics is one thing, but going there and performing is another.
Back in London 2012, Ireland brought a 19 year-old flyweight in the form of Michael Conlan who went on to take bronze and really announce himself on the world stage. Irvine is hopeful he can follow in the footsteps of the world champion.
“I would love to follow in his footsteps so all I can do is listen, learn and watch,” he said.
“We’re not going there to make up numbers. We’re there to medal and then change the colour.”
Irvine says it was a ‘special buzz’ to be there when Joyce secured his place on Sunday afternoon with a win over Turkey’s Volkan Gokcek and could see just what it meant to the Athy man.
It was also noticeable how much his own success meant to his club, St Paul’s who can now say they have an Olympian despite being just seven years old.
“To have an Olympian is a major thing,” he agreed.
“Credit to my coaches, Ralph (McKay) and Mark (O’Neill) for all of the time and effort they put into the club.
“You can’t knock them. They’re two brilliant lads and I respect what they have done so much.”
McKay is rightly proud of his charge and says the continued success of the former La Salle pupil is an inspiration for all at St Paul’s.
“It’s fantastic, a great achievement,” said the club coach.
“It was always his dream from a young age to get to the Olympics and he has fulfilled that dream. He has worked hard for this, it hasn’t just fallen into place from nowhere.
“He has jumped so many hurdles to get there and went the extra mile every time.
“It’s great for the club and he is a great role model for the kids there. They all look up to him and now they can say they have an Olympian in the club. You can see the kids standing and watching him training and even trying to copy how he puts his bandages on.”
Irvine was also quick to point out this latest milestone is the culmination of a life’s work and his victory in the box-off highlighted just how much he wanted to qualify – something he can rightly be proud of as he prepares for the biggest stage of them all this summer.
“This wasn’t just done over the last few weeks or years,” he stressed.
“The amount of time I have put into this…. I’m always the first one there and last one out. It’s about how much you want it and when it came to it out there, it was who wanted it more.”