BY CHRIS MCNULTY
BILLY Walsh belives that ‘the sky’s the limit’ for European Middleweight champion Jason Quigley.
The Ballybofey man last month defeated Romanian Bogdan Juratoni to claim gold at the European Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
It continues the meteoric rise of the Finn Valley ABC star, who is now back in training with the High Performance Unit in Dublin, the heat cranking up on their assault at the World Championships in Kazakhstan in October.
Quigley is a man on fire right now.
These awards began in January 2012. This is the 18th month of their existance and Quigley has been the recipient of three of them, in fact claiming three of the last seven.
“Jason made the breakthrough and his performances at the European Championships were nothing short of amazing,” Walsh, the IABA Head Coach, told the Donegal News.
“That is especially when you consider the draw Jason got. It was fantastic.”
On his way to European gold, Quigley defeated Austrian Arbi Charkaev in his debut European senior bout, before shunting German Stefan Haertel aside to enter the medal table. The continent really raised its eyebrows in the semi-final, when Quigley toppled world number 1, Evhen Khytrov to send him into the final with Juratoni.
Quigley was in the zone. Drawing the big hitters was no problem.
At the time, he said: “I got nothing easy in the draw. But I was thankful for that. The plan was to beat the best. Avoid nobody. Just take them all out of it.”
The former St Columba’s College student holds the unique distinction of being the only Irish boxer ever to win three European titles. At the European Youths in 2009, he defeated Emil Ahmadov (Ajerbaijan) 6-1 to claim a gold, before before winning the European U23s in Russia last December, defeating German Dennis Radovan in the final, in Russia, 17-11.
Walsh said: “The talent and the potential has always been there. This is a guy, remember, who has won youth and Under 23 titles.
“Now, he is beginning to mature. He has been behind Darren O’Neill for a few years, but then again Darren was behind the likes of Kenny Egan and Darren Sutherland prior to that. All these boxers have had to bide their times.
“What he has done is very significant. He’s the record breaker.
“In the youths, he was the big fish in the small pond and, for a while, it was the opposite in the seniors. Now, he’s finding his way and leading at senior level.
“The sky really is the limit for Jason. He has a great head on him, hopefully we can keep it down, keep him working hard, keep him improving and keep him believing.”
Walsh and the High Performance Unit have benefitted from an increase in funding in recent years and the sport is on a real high.
Quigley is one of the aces in the pack. Walsh was not at all surprised by his performances, but was taken aback by the level of opponent that Quigley had to pick off.
He said “The German had beaten Darren O’Neill in the Olympic Games and he was physically very strong. Jason actually beat him easily.
“The Ukrainian guy was just an absolute animal. Jason had the skill to outbox and outmanouvere him.
“Beating the world number one was the highlight.
“He wasn’t at his best in the final – but that was down to just pure fatigue. If he had been at his best, he would have been the Boxer of the Tournament. An Irishman (John Joe Nevin) did win it, but Jason would have been right up there and could actually have won it.”
Coached from a young age in the kitchen by his father, Conor, Jason Quigley has been steadily on the up. It’s been a long road, but he’s never lost his focus – and Walsh clearly has big things planned for The Beeches resident.
He said: “Jason is so disciplined. He is the consummate professional and lives the right life.
“He has a great ability to fight and a great ability to box; it’s a universal style.
“There is a huge link between Jason and his father, Conor and he, too, keeps working with us in the High Performance Unit.”
Quigley has been linked with a move to turning professional, but Walsh expects Quigley to keep alive his dream of standing beneath the tricolour at the Olympic Games.
He said: “There is a route there now with the WSB (World Series of Boxing) and the APB (AIBA Professional Boxing), so they can stay in the amateur game. For a boxer like Jason to miss the Olympics wouldn’t be a great decision.
“The Olympic opportunity isn’t there in the professional game.
“It’s now a career in amateur boxing, and the funding from the Irish Sports Council is a fantastic help.”
For now, the focus is on October in Kazakhstan. Quigley heads there in unrivalled form.
Walsh said: “The World Championships will be a big task.
“Jason goes there now with a reputation and he goes there with a name. He has to perform under that pressure. He also has to learn to cope with the expectancy that’s around him.
“The draw will be crucial for us.”
He is unbeaten on his last 26 visits to the canvas. His last defeat was to Willie McLaughlin of the Illies Golden Gloves in an Irish senior weltwerweight contest at the National Stadium in Dublin last January. He’d gone down to welterweight after suffering successfive middleweight defeats to O’Neill. The Quigleys pondered hard after the McLaughlin defeat. Their time was ‘now’ – and the seized their time, Jason finally breaking the barrier when beating O’Neill in a quarter-final this year, before defeating Roy Sheahan in the middleweight final.
Now, he takes on the world.
Walsh said: “The sky’s the limit for this guy.
“I spoke to him before the Olympics in London and said to him: ‘Jason, your time will be in Rio’.
“He will be the perfect age then, in 2016. If you look at the average age of Olympic medalists in boxing, it’s around 24 or 25: Jason will be 25 when Rio comes around.
“He’s on the right track, but we’ve got to keep working and keep improving.”