Sunday 25 September 2016

Irish boxing at Rio: The tumultuous story so far and what's to come

Tom Rooney

Published 11/08/2016 | 14:36

Ireland’s Steven Donnelly has Algeria’s Zohir Kedache on the back foot. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland’s Steven Donnelly has Algeria’s Zohir Kedache on the back foot. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The intangibles that make sport so compelling also consistently show us that banking on any outcome, favourable or otherwise, is a futile enterprise, but the assumption that the Irish boxing team would thrive at the Rio games seemed as close as possible to a sure thing.

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The evidence told us that, regardless of what transpired in other events, the Irish boxers represented the country’s greatest opportunity for a significant medal haul.

In total eight fighters qualified for the games, the last of whom, Michael O’Reilly, would never throw a punch.

Testing positive for a banned substance in a test conducted prior to departing for Brazil, O’Reilly ultimately admitted he may have taken a tainted supplement and became the first Irish Olympian to be sent home.

It was thought that the Portlaoise middleweight would do great things this month – his gold medal at the European Games, bronze at the World Amateur Championships and the ease with which he earned qualification in Baku all suggested as much.

For the time being, the 23-year-old has been ignominiously reduced to a cautionary tale.

Perhaps that was a harbinger for events to come or, possibly, the issue is rooted in the IABA’s intransigence in their dealings with former coach Billy Walsh, who departed so needlessly last October after nurturing the gifts of the nation’s best and brightest pugilists.

Following Joe Ward’s deflating light-heavyweight defeat at the hands of the unheralded Carlos Andres Mina late last night, only half of the original contingent are still in the mix.

Of course, Paddy Barnes, after enduring an onerous weight cut, was turned over by Spain’s Samuel Carmona Heredia via split-decision in the first round, which shattered his aspiration of medalling for the third successive games.

Having so seamlessly dispatched of Andrique Allisop, lightweight David Oliver Joyce fell short against number two seed Albert Selimov on Tuesday night.

Still, all hope is not lost and, later today, Steven Donnelly returns to the ring. The Ballymena man earned an impressive win over Zohir Kedache at the weekend.

Today at 4.45 he takes on Mongolia’s Byambyn Tuvshibat in the welterweight bracket in Pavilion 6 at the Riocentro for a spot in the quarter final.

Michael Conlan

The Belfast bantamweight, who won a bronze at the London games four years ago, received a bye to the Round of 16 and, on Sunday, the World Amateur Championship gold medalist meets Armenia’s Aram Avagyan.

Brendan Irvine

Before Conlan goes to war, flyweight Brendan Irvine - also of Belfast, though by way of California – begins his Olympic odyssey against Uzbek Shakhobidin Zoirov at 3.15 on Saturday.

The 20-year-old won a silver medal at the 2015 European Games and qualified for Rio via the European Olympic qualifier in Turkey.

Katie Taylor

The undisputed golden girl of Irish sport, and the first ever women’s Olympic lightweight champion. Taylor slumped to a pair of unexpected losses of late but few would balk at the notion of the Bray native retaining her title.

Taylor received a bye to Monday’s quarter finals - scheduled for 3.0pm - but her opponent is yet to be determined.

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