Boxers setting off for Rio with real belief
Ireland's Olympic boxing squad leave for Rio on Tuesday on the final lap of a journey which has seen them travel more than 50,000 miles into three Continents since January 2015, battling for tickets for the 31st Olympiad.
Ireland, Algeria and the USA have eight each qualified. Two hundred and eighty six - 250 males and 36 females - boxers compete at each Olympics.
Great Britain and Kazakhstan top the qualification table with 12 apiece. Thirteen - 10 males and 3 females - is the maximum quota. Cuba have ten males over the line, but female fighters are still "under consideration" on the famed Caribbean boxing island.
Alberto Puig, current president of the Cuban Federation, was quoted as saying that "Cuban women are meant to be beautiful, not get hit in the face".
Katie Taylor, Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine, Michael Conlan, David Oliver Joyce, Steven Donnelly, Michael O'Reilly and Joe Ward will represent Irish boxing in Rio. The male squad leave Tuesday. Taylor joins her compatriots in the Olympic village early next month as women's boxing does not begin until August 12, six days after the men.
Ireland have a 10-day training camp lined up with Brazil and the USA in Rio, with Billy Walsh calling the shots for the Americans, before entering the Olympic village on July 29.
The camp was earmarked by Wexford-native Walsh before he quit as Irish chief seconds in acrimonious circumstances last October to take the helm with USA Boxing.
Current Irish head coach, Zaur Antia, believes that performances in the qualifiers through the Americas, Central Asia and Europe will stand to his battled-hardened panel.
"The squad will be ready. They have vast experience," said the six-time Georgian national champion. "Paddy, his third Olympics. Michael and Katie, two Olympics, Joe in the world final. Michael the world champion.
"The team have won medals at the best tournaments. We have belief," added Antia, who will be working Ireland's corner with Eddie Bolger and John Conlan, father of Michael, in Rio.
Taylor and Conlan are ranked number one at lightweight and bantam, while O'Reilly and Ward occupy number two and number three positions at middle and light-heavy. However, World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing rankings have to be factored into the equation, with regular amateur boxing before seedings are confirmed.
Conlan is aware that Robeisy Ramirez is in the mix. The Cuban beat Conlan in the London 2012 fly semi-final en route to gold. Both men have since moved up to bantam. Taylor will be defending the lightweight title she won at London 2012 minus her aura of invincibility.
The Bray woman dropped decisions to Azerbaijan's Yana Alexseevna and France's Estelle Mossely this year, although the Mossely verdict had more to do with erratic judging.
"I'm going to Rio in the best shape possible and hopefully I'll come back as a two-time Olympic champion," said Taylor. "It's exciting to be part of such a strong team. We have the best coaches in the world working with us and there's no reason we can't bring back medals."
49kg P Barnes (Holy Family)
52kg B Irvine (St Paul's)
56kg M Conlan (Clonard)
60kg K Taylor (Bray)
60kg D Joyce (St Michael's Athy & AIBA Pro Boxing)
69kg S Donnelly (All Saints)
75kg M O'Reilly (Portlaoise)
81kg J Ward (Moate & AIBA Pro Boxing)
Team manager: J Hennigan
Coaches: Z Antia, E Bolger, J Conlan
Sunday Indo Sport