Sunday 4 December 2016

Legacy of Irish boxing tarnished - but full extent of damage done as yet unknown

Sean McGoldrick reports from Rio

Published 04/08/2016 | 20:09

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

JUST as the draw for the Olympic boxing tournament was getting under way in the Rio suburb of Barra the sensational news broke that an Irish boxer had failed a dope test.

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Irish coaches Zaur Antia, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan were in hall to discover who their eight boxers would face in the tournament over the the next few weeks. It is doubtful whether they had any idea of the bombshell would was about to hit them and their sport.

As the mobile phones of the Irish journalists, who already made up the vast bulk of the journalists attending the draw in a theatre in the Village Mall Shopping Centre buzzed repeatedly, the world of innocence surrounding Irish boxing was about to be cruelly shattered.

The draw process took over an hour to complete and by then it appears as if the Irish delegation within the centre had been informed that their world was about to fall apart.

The three Irish coaches opted not to come out to face the media scrum desperately for information about the unfolding crisis. Instead they slipped out a side-door and were on the officialbus before the chasing pack of journalists, photographers and camera-men caught them.

They declined invitations to join us and instead pretended to study the draw sheets more closely

Around the same time a tweet from the Irish boxing captain Paddy Barnes – who was back in the Olympic village- appealed to journalist Daniel McConnell who broke the story to reveal who the boxer was. It was that kind of chaotic situation.

Firstly, there was unofficial confirmation from sources within Sport Ireland that an Irish boxer had tested positive; then an official statement from the IABA confirming the news and finally an official statement from the Olympic Council of Ireland which pointedly stated that the test which O'Reilly had failed had not taken place during the Olympic Games.

Given that the games don't start for another 24 hours it was patently obvious that the test didn't take place during the Games. One suspects that the OCI were discreetly distancing themselves from the controversy as O'Reilly looks likely to be the first athlete to be sent home from the Olympic Games for failing a dope test.

The coaches Zaur Anita, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan – whose is the father of Michael Conlan – probably woke up this morning with the heads full of plans for what they would do inside the ring during the next two weeks.

But the trio together with the entire Irish boxing community go to bed tonight with a weight of a different kind on their shoulders. The legacy of the success story which has been the High Performance Unit has been tarnished. We won't know the extent of the damage for a long time yet.

Online Editors

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