Saturday 24 March 2018

Sympathy in short supply for Michael O'Reilly among fellow Irish boxers

Olympic games

Michael O'Reilly is considering his next move. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael O'Reilly is considering his next move. Photo: Sportsfile

Vincent Hogan in Rio de Janeiro

Michael O'Reilly was becoming an increasingly isolated figure in Rio last night as the Irish boxing team closed ranks in response to his doping violation.

The Portlaoise middleweight has, it was reported last night, chosen not to request the opening of his 'B' sample but will, instead, go straight to appeal. He was yesterday moved out of the boxing team's accommodation in the athletes' village until such time as that appeals process is completed.

Thursday's news had the impact of a depth charge dropped on the other seven members of the Irish boxing team who are concerned that O'Reilly's failed test could taint them as a group.

And sympathy is said to be in short supply within that group for a highly talented boxer who has a history of recalcitrance and indiscipline.

That might change in the case of a successful appeal and O'Reilly being cleared to compete. But the chances of that happening are considered unlikely.

Pointedly, the boxers' sports psychologist - Gerry Hussey - tweeted yesterday: "We will be ruthless of all obstacles. Whether it stands in front of us or within us. We are boxing team Ireland."

Hussey's tweet was addressed to both Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes, two of the team's compelling gold medal hopes.

The hope is that O'Reilly can stay in separate accommodation inside the village but, if found guilty, he will be home next week, the first Irish athlete ever expelled from an Olympiad.

The potential reputational damage to Irish boxing here is all too obvious given the remarkable success in recent times of a High Performance programme that has so spectacularly outperformed all other Olympic sports.

Darren O'Neill, such an impressive captain of the boxing team at the London Games, hinted at this yesterday, writing: "The reputation of the team was something that was always spoken about; never tarnish the reputation of what you do."

There is also fury within the camp at the leaking of the O'Reilly story to a journalist before the information had even been communicated to the IABA. This left Ireland's boxing coaches - Zaur Antia, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan - caught in the quite farcical predicament at Thursday's draw in downtown Rio of facing a blizzard of media enquiries about a situation they had not yet been made aware of.

Engulfed in the commotion, they retreated to a bus outside Teatro Bradesco, journalists holding up camera phones to the windows as if all three might have been headed to an identification parade in the nearest police station. It was deeply unfair on them and made for a wretched prelude to these Games to which Ireland have brought their largest ever boxing representation.

As the man whose sample triggered such bedlam, O'Reilly now finds himself in the eye of a deeply unpleasant storm.

It's one he may have to face in relative solitude.

Irish Independent

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