O'Reilly eyes gold after securing Olympic ticket
European Games champion Michael O'Reilly qualified for Rio 2016 after quietening Shinebayor Kamran Shakhsuvarly's noisy fan club in Baku, Azerbaijan yesterday.
The Portlaoise BC middleweight, boxing cohesively off the front and back foot, took the first two rounds to lead 20-18 on all cards against Azeri going into the third and final frame of the 75kg quarter-final.
The 2016 Great Silk Way champion claimed the last stanza 10-9 across the board, but O'Reilly had enough in the bank to earn the 29-28, 29-28,29-28 verdict that confirmed him as an Olympian.
The top five middleweights - the semi-finalists and quarter-finalist that loses to the eventual gold medallist - qualify for Rio in Baku.
The Irish Elite champion meets Iraqi southpaw Waheed Abdulridha Waheed in the semi-finals today.
Waheed, a London 2012 Olympian, is unlikely to be fazed by much as he's a police officer in Baghdad. He won bronze at the 2014 Asian Confederation Championships and is an ex-World Cadet champion.
O'Reilly, who was controversially denied a Rio place at the World Elite Championships in Doha last year, described yesterday's victory as mission accomplished.
"Qualifying for the Olympics has been accomplished and I'm over the moon about that. Now that I've achieved my objective the gold medal is the target here," said the No 1 seed in Baku.
Irish boxing has now secured seven Rio places for males from the ten weight classes. O'Reilly, Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine, Michael Conlan, David Oliver Joyce, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward are over the line.
With Katie Taylor also through, Ireland, so far, has taken eight of a maximum of 13 Rio berths for men and women, an Irish record since the current qualification system was introduced for Barcelona 1992.
Meanwhile, Tipperary's Dean Gardiner meets Moldova's Alexei Zavatin in the 91kg+ semi-final in Baku today. Super heavyweights must win gold as there is only one Olympic Rio place available for the "heavy artillery".
Marlo Moore of the USA faces Italy's Guido Vianello in the corresponding semi-final. If Gardiner and Moore win they'll clash in the super-heavy decider with an Olympic place on the line - with ex-Irish head coach Billy Walsh, now chief seconds with the USA, working the American corner.
"It would be great to be in that position," said Walsh. "But both of them have tough tasks."