John McDonagh from Castlebar travelled to Croatia to take part in the Cadets Savate World Cup, and after two days of fighting he returned home with the Gold.
Arriving to the Minerva Hotel in Varaždinske Toplice on the evening of Thursday 13th, John had no problem in making weight for his -52kg division. After the long journey it was time to settle in for the night and rest as he was scheduled to be the first match of the competition.
The following morning at 9 am he faced off against Esteban Fievet from Belgium. Belgium is a strong Savate nation with a long history, and Fievet proved to be a skilful fighter. John however took a comfortable lead against him from the start and simply maintained this over the three rounds. A unanimous decision got him off to a good start, but there were still some tough matches ahead.
Match nine of the day was between John and Michael Dortic from Croatia. As to be expected, this was a more difficult match, Dortic being several inches taller than John. This forced John to keep pressing forward to close the distance, a hard thing to do, requiring a lot of physical fitness. He kept it up for the three rounds though, but Dortic was landing scores and the result came back as a 2 : 1 in John's favour, a decision at little too close for comfort, but he was through.
Igor Shchennikov from Russia was next in match 16 of the day. John was again giving away reach in this match, but he fought clever, and started to really frustrate the Russian, landing scores and escaping on the angles. In the second round the Russian's frustrations came out in the form of two fouls for which he picked up warnings. Starting the third, John was in a comfortable lead, and he started to land almost at will. The Russian unfortunately fouled for a third time, and with the third warning from the judges he was disqualified from the match.
When the match points were added up, John was in the lead with 9 points (3 points for each win) while the Croatian, who had taken two wins from his day plus the loss against John, was second with 7. This set them for a rematch in the finals on Saturday, with the gold and the title at stake. For now however, their fighting day was over and there was a chance to rest.
The finals began at 2 pm on the Saturday and John was the third match on the list. At this point in the competition there were five judges scoring each match, and being in the main ring of the main arena this put the young fighters under the direct glare of the spectators, adding to the pressure of the occasion.
Nerves played a big part of pre-match, but John opened well with side-kicks to the legs and body, holding Dortic's kicks at bay. He followed this with clean straight punches and exiting with kicks. His confidence grew throughout the match and by the time the third round began, John was hunting close range scores before turning off with a kick to leave Dortic punching air. A fine display really belied the split decision match of the day before and at the end John's hand was raised as the winner by unanimous decision of the judges.
A clearly delighted coach Martin O'Malley said that ‘John gave an outstanding performance this weekend. There is no other way to describe it'. He went on to say that ‘hard work at training got him here, and that same hard work earned him the gold'.