Countdown on for Irish boxers aiming for Rio after eventful night at the National Stadium
Irish interim head coach Zuar Antia and selectors will have plenty to ponder after Friday’s Elite Men’s finals at Dublin’s National Stadium.
Ten Irish belts were won, but only six of the winners can qualify for the Rio Olympics, as Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward have booked tickets at light-fly, bantam, welter and light-heavy.
Likewise, Ireland will be targeting Rio places in the fly, light, light-welter, middle, heavy and super-heavy classes at the European qualifiers for men and women in Istanbul, Turkey in April.
Brendan Irvine, David Oliver Joyce, Dean Walsh, Michael O’Reilly, Darren O’Neill and Dean Gardiner claimed belts in those weights Friday. Walsh and Joyce edged Ray Moylette and Sean McComb on split decisions.
Moylette said he was disgusted at the decision and that he would never box at the National Stadium again. Friday’s clash with Walsh was a repeat of January's decider, which Walsh also won on a split.
The Irish Amateur Boxing Association ran the Elites twice this year to give their boxers a clear run at Istanbul and to help with their selection process.
Michaela Walsh, Olympic champion Katie Taylor and Christina Desmond secured the fly, light and middle belts at the Women’s Elite last month. These are the three Olympic weight classes for women.
There will be one final qualifier for women at the World Championships in Kazakhstan next May. At least bronze has to be won in Istanbul to make Rio - a top three finish is required.
Usually, the top three are the finalists and semi-finalist that lost to the eventual gold medallist. However, the International Boxing Association ordered box-offs between beaten semi-finals at the World Championships and Olympics in Qatar this year to determine a top three finish. Ireland will bring a strong team to Istanbul, while World Elite champion Michael Conlan believes we can qualify a “full house” – 13 boxers – for Rio.
The confidence expressed by the AIBA World No. 1 ranked bantam in his team-mates is commendable but will be severely tested between now and next summer.
There will be further qualifiers for Ireland’s male and female boxers in AIBA Open Boxing (AOB), the World Series of Boxing (WSB) and AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) after Istanbul.
The race for Rio 2016 runs out of road at the final qualifier – for men – in Azerbaijan next June. Big tests lie ahead – being the best in Ireland is only the start.
The four remaining roads to Rio 2016 for Irish boxing
(AIBA Open Boxing (AOB) is the official term for amateur boxing)
Men and Women: Istanbul, Turkey, April 20/May 1
Men: Sofia, Bulgaria, May 13/22
Women: World Women’s Elite Championships, Astana, Kazakhstan May 19/27
Men: Final World qualifier (for men): Baku, Azerbaijan, June 7/19