Wednesday 28 September 2016

Walsh looks to endgame after golden brace

Bernard O'Neill

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

Ireland's head coach Billy Walsh (right) with gold medallist Michael O'Reilly
Ireland's head coach Billy Walsh (right) with gold medallist Michael O'Reilly

The final notes of a second rendition of 'Amhrán na bhFiann' had barely subsided by the banks of the Caspian Sea on Saturday than Irish head coach Billy Walsh was looking towards Sofia.

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The European Elite Men's Championships in the Bulgarian capital in August is a qualifier for October's World Men's Elite Championships in Doha, Qatar, which is a qualifier for Rio 2016.

Katie Taylor and Michael O'Reilly claimed double gold on the final day of the European Games at the weekend to help Irish boxing jump from seventh spot in the medals table into a top-three position.

The Taylor and O'Reilly double, plus silver and bronze for Antrim's Brendan Irvine and Sean McComb, saw Ireland leapfrog Great Britain into third spot behind Russia and table-toppers Azerbaijan.

The top-three placing was completed minus Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, who had three Olympic medals between them, and 2011 European Elite champion Joe Ward. All three were involved in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) and AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) earlier this year, with Barnes and Conlan securing Olympic quota places in the WSB.

Moreover, three-time EU Elite lightweight champion David Oliver Joyce, who is also contracted to APB, was not in Baku. However, Walsh will have plenty to ponder in this weight class as McComb was outstanding at the European Games.

Irvine also boxed out his skin and could end up in an Olympic box-off with Barnes if he reaches the world final in Qatar, as both boxers will have secured Rio 2016 places in the light-fly class.

"It was a remarkable achievement where we won two gold medals on the final day. We were also unlucky as four or five of our guys were beaten narrowly by the eventual gold medallists, said Walsh, an ex-Irish Olympian and seven-time Elite champion - "back in the old days", as some of his squad keep reminding him!

"It's great to see new kids on the block cutting their teeth. Katie was fantastic on Saturday. The pressure she's under is immense. I've been there with her and how she handles it is amazing."

Winning the opening round was crucial for O'Reilly against Azerbaijan's Xaybula Musalov, a WSB fighter, explained Ireland's chief second.

"We had planned on getting a good start," he said. "This guy (Musalov) was in a war on Friday. Michael took his foot off the gas a bit in the second. It was all down to the last round and he stuck to the plan.

"He won the last round, but anything can happen here, the president is in the audience. You never know until they raise your hand, that's the way it goes. We lost split decisions to guys who went on to win gold medals."

Walsh, Zaur Antia, Pete Taylor and Gerry Storey were the Irish coaches in Baku.

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