Wednesday 7 December 2016

Harsh reality of Olympic crucible on the horizon for Ireland's boxers

Sean McGoldrick reports from Rio

Published 03/08/2016 | 23:19

Team Ireland boxers, from left, Paddy Barnes, David Oliver Joyce, Michael Conlan, Michael O’Reilly, Joe Ward, Stephen Donnelly and Brendan Irvine prior to their departure for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran
Team Ireland boxers, from left, Paddy Barnes, David Oliver Joyce, Michael Conlan, Michael O’Reilly, Joe Ward, Stephen Donnelly and Brendan Irvine prior to their departure for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio at Dublin Airport. Photo: Brendan Moran

BETWEEN them the eight Irish boxers competing in the Rio Olympics had won 38 championship medals. Granted nearly half of them (18) has been secured by Katie Taylor, but nonetheless the statistic underlines the quality of the team which begin their medal quest on Saturday.

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Yet just 12 years ago there was only one Irish boxer, future World middleweight champion, Andy Lee, competing at the Athens Olympics.

He bowed out in the quarter final to a then little known Cameroon boxer Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam who, ironically, has taken advantage of the new rule allowing professional boxers compete and will box in the light heavyweight class in Rio.

Irish boxing is now operating on a different planet in terms of their ambitions. But it would be foolhardy to assume anything when it comes to the ultimate test – the Olympic Games.

The first significant moment for the team comes tomorrow when the draw for the tournament will be made in the Village Mall in the western suburb of Barra – where the boxing action itself kicks of the Pavilion 6 complex on Saturday.

The significance of the draw cannot be overemphasised. Michael Carruth ended up winning the gold medal in the welterweight division at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. But he owed part of his success to what happened in the draw before the competition began.

He was one of three names left in the bowl at the – one of the others was the defending World champion and gold medal favourite Juan Hernandez Sierra from Cuba. But Carruth's luck held – he avoided Hernandez in the first round. Instead he received a bye and, of course, ended up fashioning a shock win over the Cuban in the final.

Realistically it is doubtful whether Carruth would have beaten Hernandez had they clashed in the first round. So that's how significant the draw is.

Prior to the draw the seedings for the tournament will be announced. Katie Taylor will be confirmed as the number one seed despite her recent defeats at both the World championships and European Olympic qualifier. So as happened in London her first fight in Rio will be for a bronze medal.

The men's weights are more complicated due to the fact that the performances of boxers including Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Stephen Donnelly, David Oliver Joyce and Joe Ward in the WSB and APB series respectively has to be taken into account.

Conlan, however, looks assured of a high ranking because even though he qualified for the Olympics through the WSB competition, he also won the European and World titles and is ranked number one by AIBA.

Joe Ward, Michael O'Reilly and possibly Paddy Barnes may also be seeded which would see them avoiding the first round – this is significant in the case of Barnes as otherwise he faces a demanding schedule on Friday/Saturday as he is due to carry the flag at the opening ceremony on Friday night and he could be in the ring less than 12 hours later.

Even if he is not seeded he could still avoid the first round as ten of the 22 boxers in the light flyweight category will get a bye regardless of their seeding.

Another new factor in this year's tournament is that for the first time since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 the male boxers won't be wearing headgear which means they are more prone to suffering accidental facial cuts.

Unfortunately on the law of averages a least one Irish boxer will exit the Games due to a cut.

For the moment everybody is living the dream but the reality dawns tomorrow

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