O'Reilly and Gardiner edge closer to Rio qualification
Michael O'Reilly is one positive verdict away from qualifying for Rio 2016 at the 95-nation World Olympic qualifiers in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The slick Portlaoise BC middleweight, the No 1 seed in the 75kg class, rarely moved out of second gear en route to a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) over Mongolia's Shinebayor Narmandakh last night.
Giant Tipperary super-heavy Dean Gardiner also won last evening.
The Clonmel BC man impressively beat Ukrainian Viktor Vychryst 29-28 across the board in the quarter-finals and meets Moldova's Alexei Zavatin on Friday two wins from Rio.
Super-heavyweights must win gold in the Azeri capital as there is just one Olympic place available in the 91kg+ class.
Marlo Moore of the USA, with ex-Irish head coach Billy Walsh in his corner, also won his quarter-final. If Moore and Gardiner win their semi-finals, they'll clash for a place at Rio 2016.
O'Reilly, the current European Games champion who is ranked No. 2 in the world, regularly clipped his opponent with backhands and had particularly good second and third rounds against his tall and rangy opponent.
The top five middleweights qualify in Baku and O'Reilly will book his ticket if he beats Azerbaijan's 2016 Great Silk Way champion Kamram Shakhsuvaly tomorrow.
Shakhsuvaly, who was born in Kazakhstan, had to come from behind to edge out Venezuela's Jose Gonzalez on a split decision yesterday.
The semi-finalists qualify automatically in the middleweight class. It was indicated before the tournament that the losing quarter-finalists would box-off for the fifth spot.
However, the International Boxing Association confirmed yesterday that the fifth place will go to the quarter-finalist that loses to the eventual gold medallist. Likewise, if O'Reilly loses on Thursday he'll qualify if the Azeri wins 75kg gold - or visa versa.
The Irish champion was one win from qualifying for Rio at the World Championships in Qatar last October but lost controversially to Egypt's Hassam Abdin in an Olympic box-off.
That's a reversal - the result of abysmal judging - he's determined to redeem.
"I should be qualified already, but I have this opportunity now against the Azerbaijan lad.
"We had a plan and we stuck to it today and I'm happy with my performance," said O'Reilly, a World Elite bronze medallist.
"Thursday will be the last step in qualifying. I'm delighted to get the result that set that up. One more big fight on Thursday now. I'm looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, US light-welter Gary Russell - with former Ireland supremo Billy Walsh calling the shots - won yesterday and is also one victory from Rio. Walsh's nephew, Dean Walsh, boxing for Ireland at light-welter, lost in Baku on Sunday.
If O'Reilly wins tomorrow, he'll join Katie Taylor, Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine, Michael Conlan, David Oliver Joyce, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward on the plane to the 31st Olympiad in Brazil.
Gardiner is guaranteed at least bronze in Baku, but the medals are of secondary significance. The Olympic tickets attached to the medals are the target.