Those boxing ‘experts’ who would suggest that Belfast light flyweight Paddy Barnes already has his name carved on a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and that the 25 year old need only turn up in July at the ExCel Docklands arena, should hold back from publicly expressing those views for a little while longer.
While the talented Holy Family club boxer, who won bronze in Beijing, subsequently added European and Commonwealth gold to his impressive list of achievements, at Olympic level, nothing is certain.
Expected to waltz through the World Championships last autumn in Azerbaijan, Barnes' plans were seriously upset when he was well beaten by Mark Barriga of the Phillipines. If Barnes had made it to the quarter finals he would have guaranteed his qualification for London.
Left to ponder his next move, Barnes knuckled down to work and, having retained his Irish light fly title in February at the National Stadium in Dublin, he flew off to Turkey to compete in the final European qualifier in Trazbon.
Those who make it to the semi finals all got the green light for London, but Barnes has been around boxing long enough to understand the thin line between success and failure. And he has never been one to disguise his feelings. He could not hide his disgust at his treatment in Beijing in 2008 when the judges appeared to give the points for his scoring punches to the eventual gold medallist Zou Shiming.
While it is accepted that the Chinese boxer deserved to win, the 15-0 scoring margin surprised even the neutrals and led to an outburst from the Belfast man. 'It’s a joke. Those judges should hang their heads in shame,' said a furious Barnes.
A year later, Barnes was in bother at the World Championships in Milan when he threw his gloves on the canvas after losing 15-4 to Kenya’s Peter Munkai. That tantrum led to Barnes being sent home on the first plane from Milan. 'Paddy’s behaviour was totally unacceptable,' declared IABA president Dominic O’Rourke. 'The way Paddy reacted was inexcusable and to do it in the ring on the world stage is just terrible.'
That kind of reaction perhaps says more about an athlete who has set his own high standards. On his route to Commonwealth gold in 2010 he expressed frustration at his performance against Iain Butcher and said that subsequent comments attributed to him that described the sport as ‘a boring spectacle’ had been taken out of context.
'For me it is the toughest sporting discipline in the world and it has given me so much joy and education.' says Barnes. 'I am thankful for boxing and thankful to the people and organizations that have supported my ambition to be the best for my country.'
And in case anyone failed to appreciate his love and commitment to the sport that is his life, Barnes added, 'What could be more exciting than being a young guy travelling the world as an athlete? It’s not an easy life but it is proof that with hard work and support anyone can achieve their dream and there is nothing boring about that.'
And there has been no shortage of hard, gruelling work in the months since Beijing, Milan and Baku. The daily grind has revolved around what seems to be have been an never-ending cycle of training, resting and eating. Pounding the miles out, pounding the punch bag and sparring for hours and hours.
Barnes' dream of joining the list of Ireland’s gold medal Olympians was always been tempered by the knowledge that there are few certainties in boxing. Prior to Baku Barnes said, 'I rank all the medals together. I’ve won the Commonwealth gold, I’m champion of Europe and I hope to be champion of the world.'
All of the country is rooting for Barnes to get the rewards he so richly deserves. Then, at least, he can look forward to having a descent lie in and a few square meals. The light flyweight division doesn’t leave any room for excess fat – even a miniscule amount. Barnes sticks rigidly to the 48 kilo limit as he prepares to make the weight for his contests. He seems to live off salad and fresh air.
Recently he said, 'You’re so dehydrated you can’t sleep. You dream about water. I can starve no problem. See dehydration, it’s a killer. Even the training is easy. Making the weight is tough. I can’t tell you what a kebab tastes like.'