Donnelly's redemption will be complete with win
Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30
After a traumatic 72 hours, a sense of normality will be restored to the Irish boxing squad today when Steven Donnelly and David Oliver Joyce become the first Irish boxers to enter the ring at the 2016 Olympics.
Nobody knows for sure how Michael O'Reilly's failed test will affect the squad but ultimately boxing is an individual sport and elite athletes have to be incredibly selfish individuals.
So it will be a case of every man and woman for themselves at this stage.
But the redemptive nature of the back stories of both fighters serve as a reminder of the true Olympian spirit.
Donnelly, who will have the honour of being the first Irish boxer in action in today's afternoon session (3pm), learned his skills in Ballymena-based All Saints' Boxing Club where actor Liam Neeson grew to love the sport.
Coached by Gerry Hamill, Donnelly's talent as a teenager was such that future Irish head coach Zaur Antia told the then 17-year-old that he could be a future Olympic champion.
But Donnelly's progress came to an abrupt halt when he was sent home from the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010 after a breach of team discipline.
On his return to Ballymena things went awry, not just in his boxing career, but in his life.
"I was young and stupid and I went off the rails. I started drinking and fighting and falling out with everybody who was close to me," he later recalled.
His behaviour on the streets brought him to the attention of the police and he ended up making several appearances before the local magistrate; he ended up being fined and receiving a suspended sentence.
Ultimately, Hamill persuaded him to rejoin the All Saints' club and his redemption will be complete today when he faces Zohir Kedache from Algeria in the preliminary round of the welterweight division.
Kedache qualified for Rio through the African qualifying tournament - regarded as the weakest of continental qualifying events. So Donnelly will be expected to begin the Irish campaign with a win.
No Irish boxer has worked harder than David Oliver Joyce to qualify for the Olympics. Unlucky to miss out on the Beijing Games in 2008, he was desperately unlucky not to make the team for London four years later, when he came within four seconds of qualifying. At the World Championships in Baku in 2011 he was level 30-30 with four seconds left when the referee issued the Irishman with a controversial public warning which resulted in the loss of two points and his place in the squad for London.
Bitterly disappointed with the decision, he contemplated quitting the sport. But his rehabilitation came via the newly-launched AIBA Professional Boxing Series. He then beat Sean McComb in the Irish Elite final last December before securing his place in Rio at the first qualifying tournament in Turkey.
He faces 23-year-old Andrique Allisop from the Seychelles tonight (9.0). Allisop is the African lightweight champion and boxed at the 2012 Games in London, and victory will put him up against the world silver medallist Albert Selimov in the next round.
Sunday Indo Sport