Irish elite on the ropes
IABA box-off decision puts Olympic dreams of top stars at risk
Irish amateur boxing looks set for a spectacular own goal this week that could blow a hole in Olympic medal hopes.
Up to half a dozen of the country's most decorated fighters will almost certainly miss the Open Unseeded Elite Competition in the National Stadium and, thereby, seemingly rule themselves out of next month's World Championships in Azerbaijan.
The World Championships will be the first of only two qualification opportunities for London, thereby confining the likes of European champions, Joe Ward, Ray Moylette and Paddy Barnes to a single shot at making the 2012 Games.
An IABA statement at the weekend indicated that it was "likely" that the team for the Worlds will be made up only of winners from this week's box-offs.
That would rule out the above trio, who are all carrying injuries, as well as the likes of Darren O'Neill and John Joe Nevin.
Ward, arguably the hottest property in Europe, recently questioned the principle of asking reigning national champions to box off for the right to a place in the Worlds, and remarked: "I won the European Championships, why go back in and box again? I've all to lose."
O'Neill, a European silver medalist in Moscow last year, has an injured hand and -- while entitled to spar with the aid of silicon pads -- is not allowed use them in competition. His father and coach, Ollie, has expressed bewilderment at the pressure being brought to bear on his son.
"This is causing untold distress," he said. "It's unbelievable. A man in the middle of recovery from a hand injury and he's being told that if he doesn't go in these box-offs, he's gone.
"Darren hasn't been beaten in Ireland for the last three years. I don't know, I'm totally bewildered. If he goes in the box-offs, it'll put his hand back to square one and he'll be out of the World Championships anyway.
"So we wouldn't even be insured to box. It's like a funeral in our house today."
An even more bizarre implication to the IABA stance is that both Ward and Moylette would be seeded in Baku, thereby avoiding meeting other medal favourites in the early rounds.
One club coach, who preferred not to be named, reflected yesterday: "I can't see them dropping Joe Ward, Paddy Barnes, Ray Moylette and Darren O'Neill from the Worlds. If they do, it's insane. Imagine not picking your best team.
"They're supposed to be going to a training camp in Italy in a couple of weeks but, because of this, no one knows what team Billy Walsh will have to bring.
"The box-offs were originally flagged as something to help with the picking of the team for Azerbaijan. Now they're saying the box-offs will, effectively, pick the team. They've moved the goalposts and it's desperately unfair on the boxers, not to mention Billy Walsh.
"I don't know how he does his job in these circumstances. I honestly don't."