Friday 9 December 2016

Stakes high in Doha as Olympics loom

Seán McGoldrick

Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30

Irish head coach Billy Walsh revealed that the team has targeted two medals at the tournament, which is also a qualifying event for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio
Irish head coach Billy Walsh revealed that the team has targeted two medals at the tournament, which is also a qualifying event for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio

The seven-strong Irish boxing squad are settling into their team HQ in Doha ahead of tomorrow's crucial draw for the World Championships, which begin on Tuesday in the Qatar capital.

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Irish head coach Billy Walsh revealed that the team has targeted two medals at the tournament, which is also a qualifying event for next year's Olympic Games in Rio.

Newly appointed team captain Michael Conlan has already secured a place in the bantamweight division for Rio, as has light flyweight Paddy Barnes, who missed the European Championships following hand surgery and as a result didn't qualify for Doha.

"Michael was a natural choice for team skipper as he has already qualified for the Olympics," said Walsh. "We won two medals at the last World Championships and that's our target. We have only one boxer (Joe Ward) who has previously medalled at the Worlds and we have quite a number of newcomers in the squad.

"The training camp in Assisi went very well and we had our final test match on Wednesday afternoon. We were training alongside boxers from Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Italy and Costa Rica who will be competing in Doha. Thankfully we picked up no injuries.

"Only the top nine European boxers in each weight division will be boxing in Doha. We have done fantastically well to have seven boxers in action - it is a high-quality event."

This is the first time since the inauguration of the World Championships in Cuba in 1974 that all boxers had to qualify for the event. It will also be the first time since the 1948 Olympics that box-offs will feature at a major championship.

In five of the seven weight divisions that the Irish boxers are competing in, there will be a box-off between the two bronze medallists to determine who secures a place at the Olympics.

"This is new territory, not just for the boxers but for my generation as well," acknowledged Walsh. "However, we're not thinking that far ahead. As is always the case, we are taking each round of each fight as it comes."

Apart from Conlan, who goes into the event as the defending European champion, the other Irish boxers in action are Brendan Irvine (light fly), Sean McComb (light), Dean Walsh (light welter), Adam Nolan (welter), Michael O'Reilly (middle) and Joe Ward (light heavy), who is also the European champion at 81kg and, at number five in the world, is the highest-ranking member of the team.

Five boxers in Ward's light heavyweight category will receive a bye in the first round, and if the draw is based on the AIBA rankings then the Moate man, who won a bronze medal at the last World Championships in Almaty in 2013, could be one win away from a place in the quarter-final.

Ward and Irvine have to reach their respective finals in order to secure a spot at the Rio Olympics.

Making their debuts at world level are Irvine, a silver medallist at the inaugural European Games in Baku earlier this summer; McComb, a bronze medallist in Baku; Walsh, a nephew of Billy who won a bronze medal at the European Championships in August; and O'Reilly.

The last named is an outstanding prospect and in the form of his life having won a gold medal at the European Games as well as claiming victory in the recent Feliks Stamm tournament in Warsaw.

In the event of Irvine qualifying for Rio, the IABA faces an interesting dilemma as Barnes has already qualified in the light flyweight category.

There would probably have to be a box-off between the pair, even though Barnes won bronze medals at both the Beijing and London Olympics and is on the brink of becoming the first Irish boxer to compete at three Games.

Meanwhile, talks on the future of Billy Walsh as head of the IABA's High Performance Unit are on hold until after the World Championships.

Sunday Indo Sport

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