Wednesday 29 January 2020

'It's very disheartening' - Young Irish boxer denied Rio shot by Michael O'Reilly speaks out

Conor Wallace exchanges punches with Michael OReilly during their 75kg bout at the IABA Elite Boxing Championship Finals. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
Conor Wallace exchanges punches with Michael OReilly during their 75kg bout at the IABA Elite Boxing Championship Finals. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Tom Rooney

Newry middleweight Conor Wallace has recalled the harrowing experience of watching on as Michael O’Reilly secured his place at the Rio Games during the World Olympic qualifiers in Baku.

Yesterday’s news that O’Reilly has been provisionally suspended by the IABA after testing positive in a drugs test conducted prior to departing for Rio rendered the Irish sporting consciousness to a temporary state of shock.

O'Reilly has been segregated from his fellow Irish Olympians in the Olympic village since news of the drug test failure emerged.

O’Reilly, the recent European Games gold medallist, was heavily favoured to be laden with further adornments by the time his jaunt in Brazil had concluded.

Those predictions now seem sadly premature, though the Clonmel man has the right to appeal the finding, ask for an additional test (B-Sample), or simply accept the initial prognosis.

Strangely, in a subsequently deleted tweet last night, O’Reilly posted that he would be boxing as yesterday’s draw initially dictated - he had been granted a bye to the last 16.

As the boxing community sought to make sense of this seismic bombshell, one fighter in particularly was overcome with pangs of frustration.

Conor Wallace, 20, is widely considered to be among the most potent young boxers in the nation and, in admittedly hypothetical circumstances may travelled to Brazil with Taylor, Barnes and Conlan et al.

Last December, Wallace faced O’Reilly in the final of the National Elite Championships, where he was on the wrong end of a unanimous decision.

Not only did O’Reilly clinch the title for the third year in a row at the National Stadium, but he secured his place at the World Olympic qualifiers in Azerbaijan six months later.

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Earlier this year, O’Reilly was unexpectedly defeated at the European qualifiers in Turkey and, soon after, was sent home for an alleged discipline issue and was fined €5,000, though the fee is said to have been waived.

As such, it was thought that he would have to meet Wallace in box-off for that coveted spot in Baku, pending a meeting of the National Council.

But, as Wallace explained earlier today to Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ radio, a bureaucratic minefield ensued.

“My coach and some of the other members if the Ulster council were calling a meeting in Dublin; a central council meeting, and my understanding was that there was going to be a box-off.

“Then, the box-off was on, it was put back, it was cancelled and then it was back on – nobody really knew what was happening.

“The coaches didn’t know what was happening, my coach didn’t know was happening, and I didn’t know what was happening,” he said.

"But, you had to stay ready, but there was no box-off.  Both of us had to go to Azerbaijan, and it was the coach’s decision, which was kind of unfair because there were 24 people at the Central Council meeting and, if they couldn’t come to a decision, it was kind of unfair to put it down to one man."

A member of the Elite Performance Unit, Wallace does not currently receive its monetary benefits, and as O’Reilly became the eighth and final Irish boxer to book a seat on the plane to Rio, after a quarter final victory, the youngster from the St Monica’s Club was left devastated.

“It’s very disheartening. I sacrificed a lot, and I think I was one of the only boxers in the High Performance Unit not getting funded that went to Azerbaijan, I think there was one other guy not getting funded.

“It is very hard training full-time without any funding. To sacrifice so much just to get pipped at the post, it’s very disheartening"

Yet, he quickly pointed out what an impressive pugilist O’Reilly undoubtedly is.

“I know Michael is a world class operator that speaks for itself. He’s won European Games gold medal and he’s world number two, and that’s not to be laughed at, but everyone deserves a fair crack of the whip.”

Such is the esteem in which he’s held, Wallace, a crafty southpaw, has been ensconced in Las Vegas for over a month, where he and his coach, Owen Murphy, are helping Conor McGregor prepare for his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202.

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