AUGUST 21 - BRITAIN will set aside its Olympic rivalry with Australia for a day at least tomorrow when instead the focus will be on Ireland as the two country's go head-to-head in two semi-finals of the boxing tournament.


James DeGale (pictured) will fight Darren Sutherland in the middleweight category while Tony Jeffreis meets Kenny Egan n the lightweight division.


It is Ireland's best Olympic performance since 1956 and Britain's best since 1976.


Whoever wins today are assured of at least silver medals.


DeGale, a 22-year-old Londoner, has been arguably the most impressive British boxer of the tournament so far after beating Bakhtiyar Artayev of Kazakstan 8-3 at the Workers' Gymnasium on Wednesday.


Artayev was the boxer of the tournament in Athens four years ago as he fought his way to the gold medal in the welterweight division but was never in the hunt against DeGale.


Sutherland, a 26-year-old from Dublin nicknamed "Dazzler", has beaten DeGale four out of the five occasions they have met but the Briton is confident of reversing that record.


DeGale said: "Listen, the dream's coming true, it's becoming reality.


"I'm doing my thing, man, hitting and moving, keeping my guard high, maintaining focus, it's all good - I'm good at this.


"I know I've got a losing record against [against] Sutherland, but it'll be different this time.


"I'm going to hit and move, not stay static, and combat him right with the tactics.


"Hopefully now I can go on and win the gold."


Jeffries has been fighting since 2004.


A year later he delayed surgery after damaging a knuckle and had to spend almost a year away from the ring following the 2006 Commonwealth Games during which he supported himself by running a burger van outside Sunderland's Stadium of Light.


He has looked impressive in Beijing but faces a tough bout against Egan, a 26-year-old from Clondalkin who was bronze medallist at the 2006 European Championships.

The 23-year-old Jeffries said: “This is a dream come true.


"It’s everything I’ve trained for – those cold early morning runs and the hard sessions in the gym have paid off.

“I’m very, very proud to be British.


"To win a medal for us is unbelievable.


"Contributing to the amazing Team GB medal tally is the proudest moment of my life."


It has been a mixed tournament for Britain so far.


It got off to a bad start with Frankie Gavin having to travel home after failing to make his weight and there was further controversy earlier today when it emerged that Billy Joe Saunders had been suspended by the Amateur Boxing Association for alleged lewd behaviour.

DeGale, though, insists that none of that is affecting the boxers left in Beijing, who also include super-heavyweight David Price, another to be guaranteed a bronze medal.


He said: "The mood in the camp is just going to be lovely, with three of us through to the semi-finals it's just excellent.


"But there is so much more to come from us all."


Ireland's preparations too was far from ideal.


Ravaged by rumours of discontent over their elite programme, the Irish team had returned from the World Championships in Chicago without a podium place.


Sutherland, Egan and Paddy Barnes, who has also reached the semi-finals, are all guaranteed places on the podium in Beijing, ending an eight-year drought for the entire Irish team, which failed to medal at all in Athens.


Egan said: "There were a lot of people talking bad about us, about how the training camp was a disaster and the high-performance programme was no good and there's too much training being done.


"It's all a load of rubbish."


Ireland boxing team manager Jim Walsh admits the Irish fighters have had to overcome financial hardship in order to emulate former boxing medallists including Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough.


He said: "The funding has been very limited and to be honest some of them would be financially better off if they were stacking shelves in a supermarket.


"They're all contracted and they're on full-time training in Dublin but the problem is how to get the younger ones the funding they need for the long-term plans.


"It looks like we're going to be the only Irish medals coming out of Beijing and hopefully that will mean we get a lot more funding in the run-up to London 2012.


"The build-up starts now.


"We would hope to have an Irish fighter qualified at every weight and we've got plenty of young boxers who could be there given a fair chance.


"We've a good team, you know we're not a bad little country for fighting.


"We've really really hard and deserve our place in the sunshine right now."