Boxing

Irish Olympic hopefuls gearing up for Turkish qualifiers

Irish head coach Zaur Antia (second from right) with Darren O’Neill, Paddy Barnes, Christina Desmond, Joe Ward and David Oliver Joyce at the training camp in Assisi, Italy
Neil Loughran

TEAM IRELAND are approaching the last lap of their training camp in Assisi, Italy ahead of the opening bell for the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey this weekend.

The Irish squad are training and sparring with the host nation Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Finland in Assisi. The camp finishes on Thursday, with boxing getting under way on Saturday.

Belfast flyweight Brendan Irvine, David Oliver Joyce, Dean Walsh, European Games gold medallist Michael O’Reilly, London 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill and super-heavy Dean Gardiner are all hoping to seal their spots in Brazil.

World number one Katie Taylor has her sights set on retaining the lightweight gold she won four years ago and will be strongly fancied to qualify in Turkey. Also in the frame are Cavan’s Ceire Smith - a late replacement for Holy Family’s Michaela Walsh - and middleweight Christina Desmond.

The top three males in each of the 10 weight classes qualify for Rio 2016. The finalists automatically go through and the beaten semi-finalists box-off for the third spot.

The top two females in each of the three Olympic weight classes for women - flyweight, lightweight and middleweight - qualify for Rio. The beaten semi-finalists will also box-off for positional places in the event of a boxer qualifying in Samsun and also reaching the qualification standard at the World Women’s Elite Championships - the last qualifier for females - in Kazakhstan next month.

Thirty-six Olympic berths are on offer in Samsun and 201 boxers will have qualified following the completion of the event, which is the final continental qualifier following the completion of the Americas, African and Asia/Oceania tournaments in March and April.

The World Women’s Championships yields 12 places and the last AIBA Open Boxing (AOB) tournament (for men) in Baku, Azerbaijan in June has 39 Rio tickets up for grabs.

The final qualifier - the World Series of Boxing (WSB) versus AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) clash in late June or July - offers 26 places. The WSB v APB showdown will expand the number of boxers qualified for the 31st Olympiad to 278, with the remaining eight places - five for men and three for women - distributed through the Tripartite Commission (invitation places).

Meanwhile, World Elite champion Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward, who have already qualified, are also in training camp in Assisi. They return home on Thursday while the rest of the Irish team head for Samsun.

Another man who has already sealed his spot in Brazil, Ballymena welterweight Steven Donnelly, stepped up his preparation for this summer with a convincing WSB win over Argentina’s Maximiliano Ocampo for the Poland Hussars in Krakow last Friday night.

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