Tuesday 20 February 2018

O'Reilly has won many battles on road to Rio

Boxer Michael O’Reilly. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Boxer Michael O’Reilly. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

Independent.ie newsdesk

In a week not short of good news stories, Michael O'Reilly's qualification for the Rio Olympics was one of the best. Last year the Portlaoise middleweight looked a medal contender when he followed his European Games victory in Baku with a bronze at the World Championships in Qatar.

But it was in Qatar that things started to go wrong for O'Reilly during the box-off for an Olympic place with his fellow bronze medallist Hosam Abdin of Egypt. In what was regarded as absolute robbery Abdin was awarded a unanimous points victory despite O'Reilly landing 36 punches to his opponent's 22.

Things went from bad to worse in the first European Olympic qualifier in Turkey when O'Reilly lost his first-round bout to the unfancied Finn Ilari Kujala after suffering a shoulder injury. And they deteriorated altogether when O'Reilly committed a breach of discipline which saw him sent home from the championships, fined heavily and ordered to undergo a box-off before getting a chance to compete in the second Olympic qualifier in Azerbaijan.

As things happened, the IABA spared O'Reilly the box-off but he headed to Baku knowing that his Olympic dream was on the verge of a nightmare. So God knows what his feelings were when, after reaching the quarter-final to put himself within one bout of the games, O'Reilly found himself drawn against home fighter Shinebayor Narmandakh.

Hmm, how do we put this? In recent times fighters from Azerbaijan have developed a reputation of being somewhat fortunate when close decisions are being given. Presumably something about their style of boxing catches the eyes of the judges. So nothing but the clearest and most comprehensive of victories was going to suffice for O'Reilly. And that's what he got.

Now that the pressure is off to a certain degree, O'Reilly will be well worth watching at the Olympics. It's been a battle to get there but then again he's always been a battler. This is the guy who as a teenager took the IABA to court when they excluded him from the European Youth Championships, supposedly on disciplinary grounds, won his case and went on to win silver.

His qualification means that Ireland has now qualified eight boxers for Rio Olympics. That's two more than made the London games. Half of those fighters have qualified since the departure of Billy Walsh for America. It would appear that the reports of Irish amateur boxing's demise were much exaggerated.

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