Sport

Taylor and O'Reilly strike gold

Katie Taylor won gold at the European Games in Baku on Saturday 
Bernard O'Neill

IRISH boxing will have to go out and do it all over again in a few weeks – but this time the peerless Katie Taylor won’t be on the side.

The final notes of a second rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann had barely subsided by the banks of the Caspian Sea at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday before Irish head coach Billy Walsh was looking to Sofia. The European Championships in the Bulgarian capital in August are a qualifier for October’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar – a direct qualifier for Rio 2016. 

Taylor and Michael O’Reilly both claimed gold on the final day of the European Games on Saturday to help Irish boxing jump from seventh spot in the medals table into a top three position.

The Taylor and O’Reilly double, plus silver and bronze for Belfast  boys Brendan Irvine and Sean McComb, saw Ireland leapfrog Great Britain into third spot behind Russia and table-toppers Azerbaijan.

“It was a remarkable achievement where we won two gold medals on the final day,” said Walsh. 

“We were also unlucky as four or five of our guys were beaten narrowly by the eventual gold medallists. All the team performed. Brendan Irvine and Sean McComb were fantastic. Katie is forever world class and Michael really turned it on.

“These guys now have the confidence to compete with the best in the world. They’ll have a week off and then we’ll be looking toward the European Championships in Bulgaria.”

Taylor beat Estelle Mossely – her third win over the French lightweight – on a unanimous decision in Saturday’s decider and O’Reilly stunned home favourite Xaybula Musalov on a unanimous decision. 

Middleweight Musalov was a hot favourite in his own backyard, but O’Reilly, whose uppercuts repeatedly shook his opponent, stuck steadfastly to the game plan from the Irish coaching staff to take rounds one and three.

“I knew he was going to be tough, trying to bully me, so I just stuck to the tactics of Billy and the team,” said the Portlaoise BC ace. 

“They told me to just hit and make him miss and when he did, punish him.”

Taylor’s next target will be the World Championships in Kazakhstan next February, which is a qualifier for Rio 2016.

For the record, the Russian pair Yulia Nemstova (2004) and Sofya Ochigava (2010), North Korea’s Kang Kum Hui (2005), Turkey’s Gulsum Tatar (2005/06/07) and Bulgaria’s Denista Eliseeva (2011) are the only women to have beaten Taylor.

Tatar beat Taylor three times, but the Wicklow woman toppled the Turk four times. Sooner or later a name is going to be added to the above list, probably someone who has been inspired by Taylor to take up the sport.

But for now the bandwagon keeps on rolling, 18 major gold medals attached, toward Kazakhstan and then hopefully onto the 31st Olympiad.

“I’ve got every single major title out there so it’s great to add this one to the list,” said Taylor.

“I want to go down in the history books as one of the greatest female boxers of all time.”

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