Donnelly rues missing out on a medal
The negative narrative which has haunted the Irish boxing squad in Rio continued yesterday with two more of the eight-member team exiting the tournament, leaving just Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor as our last remaining medal hopes.
World champion Conlan is in the ring this afternoon, and defending Olympic champion Katie Taylor will start her bid to retain her title tomorrow.
Welterweight Steven Donnelly missed out on a medal when he dropped a split decision to world champion, Mohammed Rabii from Morocco, while 20-year-old Belfast flyweight Brendan Irvine was outclassed on his Olympic debut by Shakhobidin Soirov from Uzbekistan.
Donnelly's fight ultimately hinged on the first round. The Irishman appeared to be the busier fighter though there was a paucity of scoring shots from either competitor. Crucially, however, all three judges gave the nod to the Moroccan.
"I thought maybe I should have got the first round. But he has the name; he is the world champion and you really have to impress to get it," said Donnelly.
From then on the Ballymena man was fighting an uphill battle as the classy Radii dictated the pace, though the Puerto Rican judge gave the nod to the Irishman in round two. However, essentially he still needed a knockout in the third to secure a medal and a place in the semi-final.
Rabii was docked a point in the final stanza for an illegal headbutt which gave the Irishman some respite but then the referee obliged him to take a standing count, though Donnelly disputed the need for it.
"I tripped on my left foot but he (the referee) gave me a count; that gave him momentum and it probably gave the judges momentum as well."
Donnelly faced another standing count at the end of the round but the bell intervened to signal the end of the contest. Even though the Irishman endured those two official knockdowns, the Puerto Rican judge still him the round which meant Rabii had to be satisfied with a split-decision win.
"I gave it my all in there it. I thought it was very close," said Donnelly.
"Apart from the coaches and myself, nobody expected me to get this far. I can walk away proud. I would have loved to bring home a medal back home but it was not to be."
Irvine's Olympic debut proved a chastening experience. Uzbek opponent Shakhobidin Zoirov quickly overwhelmed the Ulsterman who was making his debut at a major championships in the 52kg weight division - he had previously won a silver medal in the light flyweight class at the European Games in Baku last summer.
In retrospect the step up in weight proved a step too fast for him as he couldn't match the Uzbek flyweight's power. So one-sided was the first round that one judge had the Irishman two points down at the end of it.
Irvine had no option but to come forward. He lacked nothing in bravery and got off a decent number of shots but he was consistently caught in the face by his opponent's deadly accurate jab and he suffered a slight nose bleed. Zoirov deservingly took the fight to advance to the next round where he faces American contender Antonio Vargas.
Sunday Indo Sport