Saturday 18 November 2017

O'Reilly shows his class to claim middleweight gold

Michael O'Reilly waits to be presented with his gold medal 2015 European Games, Crystal Hall, Baku, Azerbaijan
Michael O'Reilly waits to be presented with his gold medal 2015 European Games, Crystal Hall, Baku, Azerbaijan Newsdesk Newsdesk

Michael O'Reilly produced one of the finest performances - not to mention one of the biggest upsets - of the European Games when scoring a stunning win over home favourite Xaybula Musalov in Baku on Saturday.

Musalov was a hot favourite to claim middleweight boxing gold medal, but O'Reilly fought the fight of his life to secure his first major title.

It was tight, however, with O'Reilly, the classier boxer, having to maintain his composure in the face of constant pressure from the brawling Azeri throughout.

The Portlaoise man, who silenced the home fans by landing a number of thudding uppercuts on Musalov, took the first frame on all three cards. But the Azeri champion, who boxed in the Russian Championships in 2011, edged the second round to leave the scoring locked at 19-19 each going into the third.

However, O'Reilly, sticking steadfastly to the game-plan from the Irish coaching staff, found the target with enough quality shots to seal victory in the third.

"I knew he was going to be tough, trying to bully me, so I just stuck to the tactics of Billy and the team. They told me to just hit and make him miss and when he did, punish him," said O'Reilly, who is coached by Pat Ryan at Portlaoise BC.

O'Reilly won silver for Ireland when the IABA hosted the European Youth Championships in Dublin in 2011. However, he had to take legal to be reinstated on the Irish team for that tournament after he was dropped for disciplinary reasons.

In 2012, he was beaten in the National U-23 final by Jason Quigley, who has since turned pro.

O'Reilly won Celtic Box Cup gold the following year and secured his first elite belt in 2014 at the expense of Darren O'Neill after a split decision.

His European Games gold will earn the Irish champion enough ranking points to enter the AIBA world top 10 when the rankings are updated to reflect performances in Baku.

O'Reilly, along with Brendan Irvine and Sean McComb in Baku, has also qualified for the World Men's Elite Championships and Olympic qualifiers in Qatar next October.

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