In the Coughlan corner

WHEN you’re in the ring, you want the right people in your corner.

First time Olympian Eoin Coughlan will have just that in Rio.

The Traralgon native earned a maiden Olympic judo berth on the back of dual Oceania Championship victories in the past two years.

Nervous energy has set in ahead of his departure next week, but Eoin has plenty of helping hands ready to prop him up should his legs turn to jelly.

His Irish parents met through the sport before emigrating to Traralgon, which by chance was one of few regional Victorian towns with judo clubs nearby.

Their firstborn son Ross, who went on to become a national junior champion, took the sport up early and Eoin followed suit from the age of about five.

Both Eoin’s younger sisters Maeve and Aoife are Olympic prospects in their own right, while father Paul was his primary coach until the age of 18.

His current coach, Daniel Kelly, is a four time Olympian and his girlfriend is a Commonwealth Games judoka.

It’s a winning combination on and off the mat.

“Having family around that know the sport and know how difficult it is to make it in the sport is really good,” Eoin said.

“They know what you have to sacrifice, how many hours you have to train and it’s good to have support that knows what’s going on.”

On paper judo seemed an inevitable pathway for Eoin, but in his youth he split his time between a wide range of sports.

Eventually genetics and passion caught up with him and the martial art took priority.

Upon turning 18 Eoin moved to Melbourne to further his judo.

He won his first junior national crown in 2010 and two years later took out the senior division.

Earning a Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship about four years ago was another leap forward, and came to the fore in 2014 when he missed the Commonwealth Games due to a shoulder reconstruction.

The VIS support helped him push through rehab ahead of the two-year Olympic qualification cycle, in which Eoin spent about eight months abroad in pursuit of world ranking points.

His twin Oceanic triumphs over Fijian nemesis Josateki Naulu ensured automatic qualification as one of the top 22 judoka in the 81-kilogram division, and he can’t wait to test himself at the games.

“It’s definitely the pinnacle. We’ve got world championships and I’ve competed in a couple before but this is something completely different, it’s the absolute peak of our sport,” Eoin said.

“To be able to put myself in that, have a shot at going there and proving myself is awesome, a dream come true.

“I woke up the other day and my girlfriend said ‘it’s 20 days until the Olympics’ and I actually started to get really nervous – 20 days is nothing.

“It seems like only yesterday it was 100 days away and my qualification wasn’t finalised and now it’s all happening really quickly.”

Eoin recently spent three weeks in Hungary and Spain at international training camps where he trained with and against some of the competition he’ll be facing in Rio.

He’s now more upbeat about his chances than ever.

“I got the chance to train with most of them throughout the three weeks, now coming back and looking at the list (of qualifiers) it’s not so daunting. I can get into a fight and have a chance of beating those guys so it’s good to know that heading over there now,” Eoin said.

“It’s a big deal, it’s something I’ve been working toward for the last six years at least and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s really good to now be realising that.”

The 24 year-old is keeping it all in perspective though, and goes into the games with a level-head and simple plan.

“I’m trying not to look past my first fight. If I win that I get a second one,” he said.

Coughlan flies out next Wednesday for the fight of his life.