Irish head coach Zaur Antia with Darren O'Neill

Irish head coach Zaur Antia with Darren O’Neill

A record 469 boxers from 105 nations have entered for the penultimate Olympic qualifiers in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Boxing begins Thursday in the Azeri capital. Ireland will employ a four-strong squad.

Light-welterweight Dean Walsh, middleweight Michael O’Reilly, heavyweight Darren O’Neill and super-heavyweight Dean Gardiner carry Ireland’s hopes.Walsh and O’Reilly will book Rio tickets if they finish in the top five in the 64kg and 75kg divisions. O’Neill and Gardiner have no room for error. They must win gold as there is just one Olympic place available in their weights.

Cuba’s London 2012 flyweight champion Robeisy Ramirez has entered for Baku at bantam.

Team Ireland – including our male Rio Olympians Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine, Michael Conlan, David Oliver Joyce, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward –  and Sean McComb, Ray Moylette and Connor Wallace have been training and sparring in Baku with twenty other nations for over a week.

The nine return home tomorrow. Walsh, O’Reilly, who won European Games gold in Baku last year, O’Neill and Gardiner remain to put the finishing touches to their preparations for a tournament which will yield 39 Rio berths.

The final Olympic qualifier will be hosted in Vargas, Venezuela next month. Ostensibly a World Series of Boxing versus AIBA Pro Boxing clash, the Latin America event is also open to pro boxers – if they registered with and are selected by their National Federations.

Katie Taylor has also qualified for Rio 2016.

Baku Olympic qualifiers

Irish squad
64kg Dean Walsh (St Josephs/St Ibars)
75kg Michael O’Reilly (Portlaoise)
91kg Darren O’Neill (Paulstown)
91+kg Dean Gardiner (Clonmel)