In a busy week of sport, don't forget Michael Conlan is on the brink of history

Conlan could become the first Irishman ever to claim gold at a senior World Championship tonight.

Image: Francis Myers/INPHO

Ciarán Gallagher reports from Doha

TWO IRISH BOXERS have make-or-break bouts at the World Championships in Doha tonight, but there are vastly different prizes on offer for each.

Conlan v Akhmadaliev

World Championship 56kg (bantamweight) final

From an Irish perspective, this is the really big one on tonight’s card. That is not to diminish the prize on offer for Michael O’Reilly, who can claim an Olympic spot (more on that below), but Belfast bantamweight Michael Conlan is now just nine minutes of action away from becoming the first Irishman ever to claim gold at a senior World Championship.

Even more impressively for Ireland, Conlan has the chance to pip Joe Ward to the post as the Moate light-heavyweight competes in his 81kg final tomorrow, meaning we could have two golds within the space of 24 hours after a 41-year wait and 18 editions of the world competition.

To claim that prize, the fleet-footed Conlan must overcome Murodjon Akhmadaliev of Uzbekistan, the world No 22 and an Asian Games silver medallist.

Conlan has been in flying form throughout the tournament, overcoming a slightly rusty start after waiting three days of competition for his first bout against Brazilian Robenilson Vieira De Jesus, while he then recorded wins against Azeri Tayfur Aliyev and Dzmitry Asanau of Belarus – all 3-0 unanimous decisions – to boost his record to 3-0 at this editions of the tournament.

As the world No 6, No 3 seed at this tournament and European champion, Conlan is highly fancied to win tonight with the bookies rating him as a money-on favourite, but Uzbek Akhmadaliev is no push over and he managed to beat the No 1 seed, Kairat Yeraliyev of Kazakhstan, en route to the final.

Nonetheless, the classy Conlan has been in confident mode and his performances have been getting better and better.

Notably after switch-hitting his way to the European title – alternating between southpaw and orthodox stances – the 23-year-old has boxed in his traditional orthodox style so it will be interesting to see if he mixes it up against Akhmadaliev.

Conlan has worked closely with coaches Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia on his tactical plans for each fight and the coaches are familiar with their Uzbek opponent as he claimed a close 2-1 split decision over the Irish captain’s fellow Belfast boxer Kurt Walker back in February – something which Conlan is taking confidence from.

“I haven’t looked at any opponents but I’ve seen bits of this kid [Akhmadaliev] because he’s been fighting before me [at the tournament],” said Conlan. “I know Kurt Walker brought him quite close so I’m just going to have to go in there and do what I do and perform and if I perform the gold medal will be in my hand.”

Verdict: Conlan

Michael O'Reilly is interviewed by RTE after the fight Ireland's Michael O'Reilly is interviewed by RTE after the fight. Source: Francis Myers/INPHO

O’Reilly v Abdin

World Championship 75kg (middleweight) third-place Olympic box-off 

This is a fight shrouded in a certain amount of uncertainty as there is a slight possibility that even the loser could progress to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games due to a potential loophole in AIBA qualification quota rules – although it could be December before that issue is cleared up!

So, a win would obviously be of far more comfort to Portlaoise middleweight Michael O’Reilly as it would definitely see him book a ticket for Rio as he would finish in the top three of the 75kg division and hit the Olympic quota.

The 22-year-old Irishman had been in fantastic form at the tournament, recording three wins – including quarter-final victory over reigning world champion Zhanubek Alimhanuly of Kazkhstan, which guaranteed a bronze medal for O’Reilly no matter what the outcome of tonight’s bout.

His campaign for World glory came to a lethargic end, however, as he suffered a competitive defeat to ultra-talented Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev, a former world underage champ, in what was O’Reilly’s fourth fight in six days in Doha.

He now clashes with Hosam Abdin of Egypt to ensure an Olympic place, and again the bookies, and most pundits at the Worlds, fancy an Irish win. While Abdin is the African champion and a former Olympian, when European Games champion O’Reilly has tremendous pedigree as a decorated champion at underage level and he is now one of the world’s most evasive middleweights, capable of avoiding his opponent, while inflicting damage on the counter.

“It won’t be hard to get ourselves back up for it because this is what we came here for – qualification [for the Olympics], that’s the main prize at the end of this,” said head coach Billy Walsh.

Verdict: O’Reilly

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Ciarán Gallagher

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