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Katie Taylor is bidding for another gold medal this weekend


Katie Taylor, here at the 2014 European Women’s Boxing Championships in Romania, is ready for the challenges of Baku

Katie Taylor, here at the 2014 European Women’s Boxing Championships in Romania, is ready for the challenges of Baku

©INPHO/Octavian Cocolos

Katie Taylor, here at the 2014 European Women’s Boxing Championships in Romania, is ready for the challenges of Baku

The first European games gets underway in Baku, Azerbaijan this weekend, a new addition to the sports schedule and with strong Irish foundations.

European Olympic council chairman Pat Hickey announced the pan-European sports games during the London Olympics, pointing to the fact that Europe stood alone in the Olympic federation when it came to a sports festival.

Within three years, and driven by Meath man Pierce O'Callaghan, the venues and villages have arisen, under the Olympic banner and now the athletes prepare to fight for the coveted gold, silver and bronze medals.

The games themselves have had their issues, most notably with athletics refusing to totally sign up, meaning that European team championships league three moves into the Baku Olympic stadium next weekend.

Meanwhile the Irish athletics team fly to Greece to compete in league one. Swimming has also had its issues and the 13 strong Irish aquatics will compete solely for Youth medals, not a senior swimmer in sight.

Boxing also has had stumbling blocks and takes place in Baku without the likes of Paddy Barnes or Michael Conlan, both safely qualified for Rio next year, neither the men's or women's event offer full passage to Rio.

Poster Girl

However, Olympic champion Katie Taylor is the poster girl for these games, yet the gold medallist from London 2012 has some questions to answer. A wrist injury sustained on her way to winning the world title last November has hampered her training.

Last month the 28-year-old came through two bouts to test her fitness with straight As. The Wicklow woman faces new challenges in Baku, with the lack of seeding for the tournament, much to the annoyance of her coach and father Pete.

This could very well see Taylor take on Russian Zinaida Dobrynina early in the competition. Dobrynina has moved up from featherweight, where she took World championship gold in the bout before Taylor last November.

Micheala Walsh is another Irish hopeful for female boxing medals. Walsh took silver at last year's Commonwealth games, though may come up against the host's Anna Alimardanova, who defeated Walsh at last year's Worlds.

The men's team is a mixed bag with Adam Nolan and Darren O'Neill mixing it with young guns like Dean Walsh and Kurt Walker, the chances of Irish progression to medal bouts have some merit.

Away from the boxing ring, triathlete Aileen Reid may well open the Irish party on day one, entering the competition as the highest-ranked European. Victory guarantees a spot in Rio, hence competition is hot.

London 2012 gold and silver medallists Nicola Spring of Switzerland and Sweden's Lisa Norden both toe the line and may produce a sting that could leave Reid outside the podium along with Rachel Klammer of Netherlands a challenger.

The Badminton arena will also focus on Irish eyes, as Scott Evans enters Baku as the highest-ranked European, some 15 world ranking spots clear of Isreal's Misha Zilberman. Badminton begins in week two.

Chloe Magee enters the competition as sixth-highest ranked, 17 places behind Bulgarian Linda Zetchiri, the top-ranked European on the world rankings, while Chloe and brother Sam top the mixed doubles rankings.

Sixty-three Irish athletes head to Baku across 14 of 27 sports, including the hybrid 3 x 3 basketball, where an Irish women's team compete, another step on the road to Ireland's full international basketball return.

Whichever Irish heroes are made, Pat Hickey may have landed gold.

European Games,

Live, Setanta Ireland, 17.00

Irish Independent