Ireland's golden duo: Taylor and O'Reilly punch their way to European glory
Katie Taylor's reign as the best pound-for-pound female boxer on the planet has extended to the shores of the Caspian Sea. The Olympic champion and Bray BC legend completed a hat-trick over Estelle Mossely to claim 60kg gold and her 18th major title at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan yesterday.
And Portlaoise BC middleweight Michael O'Reilly completed a sensational Baku double for Ireland after silencing the home crowd to claim a unanimous decision over Azerbaijan's Xaybula Musalov. The 22-year-old Irish Elite champion had been written off going into the final against the home favourite but produced the fight of his life to nail a narrow verdict and cause the upset of the Games.
They were tied at 19 each at the end of the second, but O'Reilly, the more skilful boxer throughout, responded to the aggression of the marauding Azeri with slick counter-punching and sensationally took the third on all three judges' cards to secure a famous win.
"I never was going to settle for bronze or silver - I came out here for the gold and I'm over the moon to have got it," said O'Reilly. "I knew he was going to be tough, trying to hurt me, trying to bully me, so I just stuck to the tactics of Billy Walsh (head coach) and the team. They told me to just hit and not get hit. That's what I did and that won me the fight.
"I went back to the corner at the second round and knew I was level. I fought my heart out in that final round. I knew he was tired - he was holding onto me, trying to get me to miss and drop my guard - but I just stayed solid. At the end of the round, I knew I won it in my heart, but I had a doubt. But when my hand was raised I was just over the moon. This is really, really special for me."
Taylor, who beat Mossely in the 2013 and 2014 EU and European Elite finals, posted a unanimous decision (40-36, 40-36, 39-37) at the Crystal Hall venue.
Mossely had vowed to beat Taylor going into their third meeting, and she once again asked questions of the Wicklow orthodox, but a familiar hand was raised in victory after four rounds in the Azeri capital.
The five-time world champion edged a tentative first round on a split, but got her three- and four-punch combinations working - although Mossely's jab was finding the target - to take rounds three and four unanimously and leave the French fighter needing a stoppage.
However, that was never going to happen, with Taylor finishing out the round, which she won 10-9 across the board, on her own terms.
"I'm delighted," she said. "Thank God again for another great victory. I felt quiet tired in there today. She's a very tricky opponent. I think I won every round - the tactics were spot on from the coaches in my corner.
"I'm so grateful to have some of the best coaches in the world in my corner. I felt a little differently in there. To be honest, my feinting wasn't the best - I should have been feinting a bit more. But I managed to pull through and get the convincing performance.
"I don't think it was fitness, I just think it was one of those days when it happens, but I managed to pull through and I think that's the sign of a great champion as well.
"I have to produce great performances, it doesn't matter who I'm up against. It was nice to have that semi-final yesterday, and I was able to produce another good performance today. I'm delighted to have another medal."
Yesterday's victory was Taylor's 160th win from 167 bouts since her first contest as a 15-year-old at Dublin's National Stadium in 2001, and also her 58th consecutive win since 2011.
She's also earned enough ranking points in Baku to ensure she will go into 2016 as No 1 in the world in the lightweight class for an unprecedented 10 years in a row.
Taylor (gold), Michael O'Reilly (gold), Brendan Irvine (silver), and Sean McComb (bronze) all finished in podium positions for Irish boxing in Baku.
The haul saw Ireland take third position in the boxing medals table, behind Azerbaijan and Russia, and ahead of Great Britain in fourth position. Head coach Billy Walsh, Zaur Antia, Pete Taylor and Gerry Storey were working in Ireland's corner in Baku. Joe Hennigan is the Irish team manager.
O'Reilly, Irvine and McComb have also qualified for October's AIBA World Men's Elite Championships in Doha, which is a qualifier for next year's Olympics.
The first Olympic qualifier for females will be at the AIBA World Elite Women's Championships in Kazakhstan next February. Taylor will be aiming for her sixth successive title.
Team Ireland are due to arrive at Dublin Airport at 10.0am tomorrow.
Sunday Indo Sport