Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 6°C Friday 25 September 2020

Darren O'Neill braced for 'huge task' as he leads Irish quartet in last-chance Olympic qualifying event

Dean Walsh, Dean Gardiner and Michael O’Reilly are also in Baku hoping it leads to Rio.

Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

THE FINAL ‘AMATEUR’ Olympic qualifier gets underway in Baku this evening with four Irish boxers entering the last-chance saloon.

While one further qualification event takes place in Venezuela next month, that event is only open to professionals and boxers who have competed in APB and WSB competitions.

London 2012 boxing team captain Darren O’Neill will be the first Irishman in action on Saturday when he takes on Mustafa El Molla of Sweden, while light-welterweight Dean Walsh and super-heavyweight Dean Gardiner will fight on Sunday with middleweight Michael O’Reilly in action on Monday.

Walsh and O’Reilly must secure top-five places to qualify for Rio, but O’Neill and Gardiner face the more daunting task of claiming gold in their respective weight divisions if they are to reach the Olympics.

“Obviously I have a huge task ahead of me,” admitted O’Neill, who avoided an opening-night bout after 29 boxers weighed in at 91kg, meaning the heavyweight division starts at the last-32 stage.

“I have to win it outright and there’s some top-quality boxers left in it, but I’ve been going well this year,” he added.

Both O’Neill and Gardiner are up against it, while World and European medallists O’Reilly and Walsh will be under pressure to perform after head coach Zaur Antia and his fellow coaches opted to select them for the tournament despite the pair being sent home from last April’s qualifier in Turkey due to disciplinary issues.

Antia has reported that there are no injury concerns among the four-man team.

Michael O'Reilly with Hosam Abdin Michael O'Reilly in action in Doha last year. Source: Francis Myers/INPHO

“Everybody is positive, everybody is in good shape,” said Antia. “We’ve had the normal amount of sparring, which should help. Everybody is calm and everybody is happy,” added the coach.

The Irish team arrived in Baku last week for a pre-tournament training camp, with Ireland’s six male Olympians – Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Joe Ward, David Oliver Joyce, Steven Donnelly and Brendan Irvine – also participating before they flew home last Tuesday.

Antia’s fellow coach John Conlan also returned to Ireland to monitor the Olympians’ training, but he believes that the Rio squad may soon increase in number if the four-man team in Baku can successfully build on their recent preparation.

“They had a great camp, it was very good sparring with about 15 different countries and there was a variation of styles that the boys got to work with,” said Conlan, father of world champion Michael.

With Olympic champion Katie Taylor also qualified for Rio, Ireland have seven boxers already on the plane for this summer’s Games.

Mayo light-welterweight Ray Moylette is eligible to compete in the ‘pro’ qualifier in Venezuela next month, but his Olympic chances may yet depend on how Walsh favours in Baku.

The42 is on Snapchat! Tap the button below on your phone to add!

Warriors counting on Green aggression to decide title tonight, LeBron James looks for Love in game 6

Ireland face daunting chase as they go in search of elusive home win

About the author:

Ciarán Gallagher

Read next: