Rio Olympics

Steven Donnelly gets Irish boxers back on track

 Stephen Donnelly won all three rounds in his preliminary round bout versus Algeria's Zohir Kedache
Neil Loughran

AFTER days of having its name dragged through the mud, Irish boxing finally hit the headlines for the right reasons yesterday afternoon when Steven Donnelly put the first win on the board.

The Ballymena welterweight was on top form at the Riocentro convention centre in Barra as he confidently dispatched Algeria’s Zohir Kedache.

Donnelly was a unanimous winner on all three judges’ cards as he progressed to a last 16 showdown with Mongolian Tuvshinbat Byamba on Thursday.

The fighters and coaches will have been glad to get that victory out of the way as Irish boxing attempts to deal with the fall-out from middleweight Michael O’Reilly’s failed drugs test.

But yesterday was all about what happens between the ropes, not outside them, and Donnelly showed no ring rust in his first competitive fight since March.

The All Saints BC orthodox boxed beautifully as the crude but dangerous Kedache came out swinging, a succession of left hooks attempting to connect with Donnelly’s jaw, only to catch thin air instead.

Short, sharp combinations worked a treat as he danced in and out of range, with four straight right hands to the solar plexus during the first round taking the wind out of the north African’s sails.

The second and third followed much the same pattern, with Donnelly using his superior footwork and fast hands to make Kedache pay up close before getting out of the way of his opponent’s increasingly wild shots.

The result never looked in doubt, with Donnelly conserving energy late on as he secured a 29-28, 30-26, 30-27 decision.

“It was a great win for me, it’s always good to get the first one out of the way. There’s pressure coming in, knowing everyone’s back home watching,” said the 27-year-old.

“I’m glad to get in and get three good rounds under my belt and come away with the win. He was a crafty southpaw so I just had to listen to my coaches in the corner and use my jab.

“There were times there I was falling in a wee bit more but that’ll come with sharpness and more rounds.

“I’m over the moon with my performance.”

Should Donnelly get past the tough Byamba, who looked impressive in seeing off Argentina’s Alberto Palmetta before the Ballymena man’s bout, he would likely face reigning world champion Mohammed Rabii in the last eight on Saturday morning.

The Moroccan would be a difficult proposition as Donnelly bids to reach the medal stages, but first he must deal with Byamba on Thursday.

“I don’t know much about him,” said Donnelly of the Mongolian. “But the coaches will have videos of him and we’re ready for anyone.

“We’ll go back and look [at the videos] and see what he’s like and we’ll get the job done.”

Despite looking fresh in his first-ever fight at the Olympics, the 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist is convinced the best is yet to come

He said: “I’ll be better the next time.

“The welterweight division’s packed with talent but I have the ability to do it and I’ll get better with each fight.

“This is only the start of the journey so hopefully I can keep that going and go on and do the country proud.

“This is what dreams are made of. Since I started boxing at 13 years old, everyone wants to reach the Olympic Games, and here I am. It’s fantastic.”

Earlier in the day saw the first major shock in the welterweight division as Russia’s Andrei Zamkovoy – the man to whom Donnelly owes a debt of thanks for his place in Rio – dropped a split decision to Rayton Okwiri. The Kenyan now meets Rabii in the last 16.
Elsewhere yesterday, Ecuador’s Andrea Mina beat Germany’s Serge Michel to set up a meeting with Mullingar light-heavyweight and Irish medal hope Joe Ward in the last 16 on Wednesday.

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