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Egan's Proud Silver Lining

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IN the end we did what we always do in such circumstances -- we sought out the sanctuary of the usual to celebrate the very unusual.

Paddy O'Shea's is, as you've probably guessed, an Irish bar. Not any old Irish bar but the newest -- and the best -- Irish bar in Beijing, capital city of the Olympic Games for the past three weeks.

It's a fine drinking house, as one of my good friends calls the pub. Owner Glenn Phelan runs a good shop, the local brew is more than pleasant and the craic was good the few times we managed to get away from the laptop for the duration of what was my first Olympics.

Sunday night we finished work early -- at 10 p.m. to be precise, which was a lot earlier than the norm in a land where the clock is seven hours ahead of those in charge of Dublin deadlines, and 12 for New York.

The early finish came at the end of a long day, a disappointing day, but one that still needed to be celebrated.

Hours earlier we had gathered from early morning in the Worker's Gymnasium, a 20,000 indoor arena built for a world table tennis championships which one of our kind with a penchant for words as big as himself christened the Irish Embassy for the duration of the Games.

The description was apt for the boxing venue that became our home from home for most of the 16 days of action as John Joe Nevin, Darren Sutherland, John Joe Joyce, Paddy Barnes and a very special man by the name of Kenny Egan did their country proud.

Sunday was St. Kenny's Day as the Irish boxing team captain prepared to take on Chinese hero Xiaoping Zhang in the light-heavyweight final, and Ireland waited for only our second gold medal in the ring.

It was Michael Carruth's golden achievement in Barcelona some 16 years earlier that prompted Egan's love affair with boxing, and all tournament he had been keeping his pre-game promise to follow suit.

First Irishman into the ring on the opening day of the boxing action, the affable Egan promised to be the last Irishman out of it on Sunday, the final day of competition.

And he was, but sadly not with the gold medal wrapped around his bulging neck, not that Egan didn't do enough to win the fight. He did, but corrupt judging - not for the first time at these Olympics - ensured Zhang was even credited for shots landed by Egan.

Our man lost the final 11-7. In truth he was never going to win it in a ring crowded by Zhang, the referee, five judges and 1.3 billion Chinese.

There was honor in defeat, however. Everyone but the Chinese could see the error of the judge's ways, even if the closest Egan got to that gold medal was to kiss it on his way off the presentation podium.

There was also great pride in the name of love when Egan landed in Paddy O'Shea's later that night along with his brothers Willie, Tony and John and a gang of lads from the Boomers Pub in Clondalkin, who ensured the Worker's Gymnasium rocked to an "Ole Ole Ole" beat all tournament long.

They celebrated, they sang, they danced, they kissed the medal that should have been of a different hue.

For the first time ever silver was worth more than gold, and Paddy O'Shea's was the perfect venue to applaud it.

We were miles from Ireland but we were right at home with a hero, a real live Irish hero.

I hope the welcome that greeted him at home was heroic. He deserves nothing less.

Reasons to Remember Beijing

KENNY EGAN

The gold medal was beyond him when he took on 1.3 million Chinese and five biased judges in the Beijing Worker's Stadium on Sunday, but Egan won something more important in China -- the respect and the hearts of the Irish nation. A real hero.

PADDY BARNES

Admitted he has to learn to grow up and shut up after his verbal attack on some more disgraceful scoring in his semifinal, but Barnes was the find of the tournament for Irish sport. Bronze this time, but watch him go for gold in London.

DARREN SUTHERLAND

Confidence is clearly not an issue for the 26-year-old, who turns pro as soon as gets home to his mother's house in Navan. Sutherland was delirious about the bronze medal he won, but those who saw the brilliance of his very different opening two performances reckon he should have gone all the way to the gold.

PAUL HESSION

One of the few Irish athletes who did himself justice in China and then some. The fastest man in Ireland was second in his heat of the 200 meters, won his quarterfinal and was one place away from a showdown with Usain Bolt when he finished fifth in the semis. Brilliant.

EOIN RHEINISCH

It seems an eternity ago now, but the opening Monday and Tuesday of the Olympic Games saw a new Irish sporting hero emerge from the waters. Shunyi Rheinisch, forced to train and compete abroad 220 days a year, was just seconds away from a bronze medal after an amazing effort.

THE IRISH WALKERS

Olive Loughnane finished seventh and Robert Heffernan eighth in the women's and men's 20K walks respectively, quite an achievement for two Irish athletes in what were very demanding conditions. To put it in perspective they would have made the finals on the track with those top eight performances -- how many other Irish athletes managed that in Beijing?

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