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Brennan, Bates and Afanasev march on as Irish boxers make strong start to Olympic qualifiers

Three Irish fighters progressed to the next round of qualifiers in London, although there was no joy for Christina Desmond who bowed out to the Italian third seed.

Ireland's Kiril Afanasev celebrates progression to the last 16 at heavyweight.
Ireland's Kiril Afanasev celebrates progression to the last 16 at heavyweight.

Updated Mar 15th 2020, 9:45 PM

THREE OUT OF four ain’t bad, and that has been the fare thus far for the Irish boxers in London as Bernard Dunne’s charges on Sunday began their respective campaigns to book spots at Tokyo 2020.

A trio of Dubliners — Emmet Brennan (81kg), George Bates (63kg) and Kiril Afanasev (91kg) — each progressed to the next stage of the European leg of Olympic qualification, although there was no joy for Cork’s Christina Desmond (69kg) who will now look towards a World leg in Paris in pursuit of a seat on the plane to the Far East.

The Irish team got off to a winning start in the afternoon session when Brennan stopped Bosnian opponent Radenko Tomic to reach the last 16 at light-heavyweight, but suffered a first defeat in their first bout of the evening as Desmond was seen off by third-seeded Italian Angela Carini on a unanimous verdict.

brennan2 Emmet Brennan is victorious at the Copper Box Arena.

There was a stroke of fortune, then, for Dublin’s George Bates at 63kg — or rather a cruel stroke of misfortune for his Spanish opponent: after less than a round, a clash of heads would eventually lead to Leon Dominguez Becerra being stopped on the doctor’s advice with a deep cut over his left eye. Bates — who had shaded proceedings to that point — progressed relatively unscathed.

And in Ireland’s fourth and last Sunday bout, Afanasev — a Dubliner of Russian heritage — dug deep in the third to tip a split decision in his favour against Georgia’s Nikoloz Begadze.

bates George Bates celebrates his progression to the last 16.

Brennan outclassed and outgunned foe Tomic at the Copper Box Arena, his vicious body attack paying dividends in the second round as he forced a standing count and then a knockdown of the Bosnian.

As Tomic regained his footing gingerly, the referee waved off the contest, deeming him to be in no position to continue.

“I stuck to instructions and it just went a little bit better than we thought,” Brennand said. “The plan is to go all the way. You don’t come here without planning on that.”

Docklands BC’s Irish Elite champion is aiming to succeed the now-professional Joe Ward as Ireland’s Olympic representative at 81kg, and is now just two wins from Tokyo.

brennan3 Brennan finishes the job.

Brennan will face Switzerland’s Uke Smajli on Tuesday, St Patrick’s Day, for a place in the quarter-finals. A top-six finish — i.e. a semi-final spot or a victory in a box-off between losing quarter-finalists — will seal his qualification for the Games.

Bates, too, will return to the ring on Paddy’s Day where he awaits Azerbaijani former bantamweight world champion Javid Chalabiyev for a place in the last eight.

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The St Mary’s BC man had the upper hand over Dominguez Becerra when a head clash opened a wound over the Spaniards left eye. It worsened as the action continued, Bates’ right hand potent, and a ringside doctor eventually deemed it too dangerous for Dominguez Becerra to continue.

Smithfield’s Afanasev came out on the right side of momentum-swinging battle with Georgia’s Begadze, deservedly emerging victorious on a 4-1 split decision.

Afanasev took the opener on four of the five judges’ scorecards, but the second went Begadze’s way by the same margin.

A tentative third saw the Irish Elite heavyweight champion show more patience and guile, picking his moments to land clean shots as each man dared not take the risk of shipping anything especially eye-catching.

afanasev Kiril Afanasev has his hand raised in victory.

In a tense finish, it was Afanasev who stamped his mark on proceedings, finishing well down the stretch to earn his spot in the last 16.

He’ll face Spain’s Emmanuel Reyes, also on Tuesday.

Desmond, however, bowed out at the last-16 stage after an engaging encounter with her sharp-shooting and slick Italian foe.

Carini, who last year won World Championship silver at a weight below, and did the same in her current division at the Europeans, was worthy of her win, dictating the tempo and landing the more consistent, accurate work despite Desmond’s best efforts.

The Fr Horgan’s BC southpaw landed her fair share of thudding counters — particularly in the first — and was competitive throughout, but saluted her wilier opponent upon the announcement of the judges’ verdict.

desmond Desmond and Carini trade.

A European bronze medalist at 75kg in 2016, and a two-time Irish Elite champion at 69 last year, garda Desmond will hope to avail of another opportunity to reach Tokyo by way of the World qualifiers, currently scheduled for Paris in May.

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