Ireland’s eight-strong squad qualified for August’s Olympics through three Continents after battling it out with some of the top boxers in the world for a share of the 286 places at the 31st Olympiad.
The qualification campaign effectively began in Venezuela and ended in Venezuela at the final qualifier in the Latin American nation recently. Irish boxing also took the scenic route through Central Asia and Europe along the way
As things stand, Ireland, Algeria and the USA are lying in joint 11th position with eight qualified.
Kazakhstan and Great Britain top the table with 12 apiece over the line and Azerbaijan, China, France, Russia, and Uzbekistan have 11 through.
Cuba, who don’t appear to have a women’s Elite squad, have a “full house” of ten males qualified.
Roads to Rio
April, 2015 – Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes earned quota places for Rio following a tense and dramatic night in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) in Maiquetía, Venezuela. Barnes, who received a hot reception from the home fans, beat Finol Rivas on a split decision (49-45,49-45, 47-48) in the light-fly class in to book his ticket and Conlan beat Jose Diaz 49-46 across the board on a unanimous verdict. Barnes and Conlan were lining out for Italia Thunder. Any type of victory would have sufficed for Barnes from his last outing of the season against Rivas, and the Belfast orthodox once again delivered to record his 7th straight win for Thunder.Conlan needed to win his last fight of the WSB regular term and hope that Azeri bantam Magomed Gurbanov lost away to Puerto Rico’s Hector Garcia. Gurbanov was the favourite going into the clash, but Garcia dropped the Azeri in the fifth en route to a unanimous decision. The results saw Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin and Conlan finish in the top two places in the 56kg class and qualify.
October, 2015 – Michael Conlan beat Dzimitry Asanau of Belarus in the semi-finals of the World Elite Championships on a unanimous decision to book Olympic qualification for a second time by virtue of finishing in the top three in the bantam class. Conlan, who qualified for Rio through the WSB, achieved the standard again in the Persian Gulf. The International Boxing Association informed National Federations in Doha that in the event of boxers reaching the qualification standard twice that the World place prevails. “It’s an ideal dilemma to have,” observed Conlan’s dad and Irish coach John Conlan. Conlan also went on to win gold to become the first Irish male boxer to secure an AIBA World Elite crown.The Irish captain won the first and third rounds of his 56kg semi-final 10-9 across the board to take a 30-27, 29-28,29-28 decision. Asanau split the judges in his favour in the second round, but Conlan was back on his toes and dominating – he found the target with six unanswered shots in the first 30 seconds of the final frame – to secure victory.
October, 2015 – Joe Ward qualified after beating Uzbek light-heavy in the AIBA World Elite 81kg semi-final in Doha, Qatar. The Irish southpaw earned a unanimous decision. The top two light-heavys on the Arabian Peninsula qualify and Ward also guaranteed himself at least silver. “It’s a massive win after the ups and downs I’ve had in my career, missing out on London [2012 Olympic Games]. Then I tried to go the APB route, I did okay at that but got pipped at the post a few times,” said Ward immediately after his win. A lot of people wrote me off in a way, but I knew myself I’d stick with it. Eddie Bolger [coach] stuck with me, my family at home, my kids and my girlfriend motivated me to keep going and I got what I wanted. That’s my dream, to go to the Olympic Games and I’ve got a World silver medal.”
December, 2015 – The Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) were delighted to confirm that Steven Donnelly had achieved a quota place for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Pat Ryan and Fergal Carruth, President and CEO of the IABA, confirmed that they had been notified by the Olympic Council of Ireland that Donnelly had earned a quota place for the 31st Olympiad. Pat Ryan said: “We are absolutely delighted for Steven and for his club. Steven performed magnificently last season and he won his place on merit. Congratulations to him and all involved.” Fergal Carruth said: “We have received confirmation that Steven has been offered a quota place for the Olympic Games in Rio. This is fantastic news for our sport and congratulations to Steven and his club.” Donnelly, an ex Irish Elite champion, qualified through the World Series of Boxing (WSB). The All Saints BC (Ballymena) welterweight won five of his six outings for the Hussars of Poland in the WSB and finished in the top two in the 69kg WSB class after a number of convoluted scenarios involving results elsewhere fell his way. However, the bottom line was that Donnelly won five WSB fights and fully deserved his seat on the plane to the 2016 Olympic Games.
April, 2016 – Brendan Irvine came from behind to see off the challenge of Bulgaria’s Daniel Asenov to secure an Olympic ticket in Samsun, Turkey. Both men – who were born on the same day a year apart, Irvine on May 17th, 1996 and Asenov on May 17th, 1997 – met in a third place box-off, with the winner guaranteed a ticket to Rio 2016. Irvine, the No. 1 seed in the flyweight class in Samsun, had to pull out all the stops to subdue his fiery opponent, who, to his credit, set a pace and never relented. Two of the judges split for Asenov at the end of a first frame which saw the Bulgarian land three big overhand rights, but Irvine, nicknamed “Wee Rooster”, found his range at mid-way and hit the target with the punch of the bout, a sweet uppercut bang on the button.
April, 2016 – David Oliver Joyce qualified for Rio 2016 following an edge-of-the-seat box-off thriller with Turkey’s Volkan Gokcek on the final day of the 39-nation European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey this afternoon. The St Michael’s Athy BC man, one of the great servants of the sport in Ireland, beat the Turkish lightweight on a split decision to realise what he described as his dream of becoming an Olympian. Joyce took the first round, but Gokcek claimed the second before Ireland’s three-time EU champion pulled out all the stops – and the proverbial kitchen sink – to nail the third frame and join his Irish team mates Brendan Irvine, who also qualified in Samsun, on the plane to the 31st Olympiad. Joyce emotionally dedicated his Olympic qualification to the memory of his grandmother.
May, 2016 – Katie Taylor qualified for her second successive Olympics at the AIBA World Women’s Elite Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan .Taylor beat Mexico’s Victoria Torres in a fiery 60kg quarter-final to book her ticket into her sixth successive World Elite semi-final since New Delhi 2006. The top four lightweights in Doha qualify. The Bray woman, aiming for her sixth successive World title, lost out in the semi-final stage to France’s Estelle Mossely. However, the Rio ticket was secured and the Olympic champion would be defending her title at the 2016 Olympics.
June, 2016 – Michael O’Reilly added the words Irish Olympian to his CV after earning a unanimous decision (29-28,29-28,29-28) over Azerbaijan’s Shinebayor Narmandakh in the quarter-finals of the World Olympic qualifiers in Baku, Azerbaijan. The top five middleweights in Baku qualified for the 31st Olympiad and the Irish European Games champion and World Elite bronze medallist went on to win gold in the Azeri capital. O’Reilly, the No. 1 seed in Baku, said he was absolutely thrilled with his victory, and Irish coach Eddie Bolger, who was working O’Reilly’s corner with Ireland chief seconds Zaur Antia, hailed his discipline. He said: “It was a tense affair as you can imagine and it would have been easy for Michael to break discipline, but he was cool and stuck to the game plan in each round.”
Irish 2016 Olympic Squad
60kg (Lightweight) – Katie Taylor (Bray)
49kg (Light-flyweight) – Paddy Barnes (Holy Family)
52kg (Flyweight) – Brendan Irvine (St Paul’s)
56kg (Bantamweight) – Michael Conlan (Clonard)
60kg (Lightweight) – David Oliver Joyce (St Michael’s Athy & AIBA Pro Boxing)
69kg (Welterweight) – Steven Donnelly (All Saints)
75kg (Middleweight) – Michael O’Reilly (Portlaoise)
81kg (Light-heavyweight) – Joe Ward (Moate & AIBA Pro Boxing)
Team manager: Joe Hennigan
Coaches: Zaur Antia, Eddie Bolger, John Conlan