Ireland coach backs Katie Taylor to record convincing win
IRISH interim head coach Zaur Antia believes Olympic champion Katie Taylor will record a more comprehensive third straight win over one of her biggest rivals on Friday.
David Oliver Joyce, Brendan Irvine and Taylor are in last-four action at the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey on Friday afternoon, one win each away from booking tickets for Rio this summer.
Taylor meets Azerbaijan’s Yana Alexseevna, who boxed for Ukraine as Yana Sydor up to 2012. Joyce faces Great Britain’s current European champion Joe Cordina and Irvine is in against Armenian flyweight Narek Abgaryan.
None of Ireland’s opponents have beaten Irish opposition in their five encounters with boxers from this country since 2012. If that statistic remains intact by Friday evening, Taylor, Joyce and Irvine will join Irish team-mates Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward, who all qualified last year, on the plane to Rio.
Taylor beat Alexseevna in the 2014 World lightweight final and 2015 European Games semi-final and Joyce holds two decisions over Welsh lightweight Cordina from 2012, while Abgaryan lost to Conlan in 2013.
Alexseevna emerged as a serious contender to Taylor after their European Games semi-final went down to the wire last summer in Azerbaijan. But in the three multi-nations tournaments she has competed in since the Baku cliffhanger, she has failed to get beyond the semi-finals.
“The Azerbaijan girl is a very good boxer. We remember last time, I believe that Katie will win better this time. That is our ambition. I’m very positive," said Antia.
“The performance of our boxers, Katie, David and Brendan, will show everything tomorrow in the semi-finals. We are confident. The team is confident for tomorrow.”
Irvine and Joyce will have a second bite of the cherry if they lose on Friday, as the beaten male semi-finalists meet in a box-off on Saturday and Sunday to decide the top three for Rio. The female boxers who lose on Friday afternoon can’t qualify directly, as only the top two (the finalists) in each of the three Olympic weights for women qualify in Samsun. However, the losers of Friday’s semi-finals will go into a box-off for third and fourth spot over the weekend and can qualify if the finalists in Samsun also meet the qualification standard (a top-four finish) again at May’s World Championships in Kazakhstan.
In that event of a boxer qualifying for Rio 2016 twice, the World place will prevail and the Olympic berth from Samsun kicks back to the winner of this weekend’s third and fourth-place fights. It being an Olympic boxing qualification process, it wouldn’t feel right if wasn’t convoluted and didn’t look deliberately designed to confuse people. But that's the process as it is. However, the bottom line for Taylor is that, if she claims a 166th win from her 174th outing, she’ll be through to her second Olympics.
Likewise with Joyce and Irvine. Three wins and Ireland will have at least seven boxers at the 31st Olympiad, which will be the country's biggest representation since the qualification era began, for the 1992 Olympics.
Antia, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan, father of World Elite champion Michael Conlan, are working Ireland’s corner in Turkey. The Irish squad, who are due to arrive home on Monday, had a light training session on Thursday ahead of the last-four bouts.
Turkey represents the end of the continental qualification process following the completion of the Americas, Asian and African tournaments earlier this month. Two hundred and one of the 286 boxers who compete at each Olympics will have qualified when the final bell rings in Samsun on Sunday. Three qualifiers remain after this weekend.
Irish team manager Joe Hennigan believes Taylor, Irvine and Joyce have the international know-how to increase Ireland's share of Rio-bound boxers: “When there’s Olympic places on the line, it will get very intense and competitive, but Katie and David are very experienced international boxers," he said.
“They’ve both boxed at the top level internationally for years now and Brendan won silver at the European Games last year and reached a World Elite quarter-final. Of course it is going to be tough, but that’s what you expect at this level. This level is the level our teams have been competing at and winning at consistently.”
European Olympic Qualifiers Samsun, Turkey
Semi-finals, Friday, April 15
52kg: Brendan Irvine (Ireland) v Narek Abgaryan (Armenia) (4pm)
60kg: Katie Taylor (Ireland) v Yana Alexseevna (Azerbaijan) (12.30pm)
60kg: David Oliver Joyce (Ireland) v Joe Cordina (Great Britain) (4.45pm)