ON THE eve of the Rio Olympics, Ireland's team have been rocked by the news boxer Michael O'Reilly is reported to have failed a drug test.
The mood in the Irish camp was buoyant on Thursday morning after the draws were made. Paddy Barnes received a bye into the quarter-finals of the men's light flyweight division, where he will come up against a Spanish or Argentinian boxer on Monday. Fellow Belfast fighter Michael Conlan has also got a bye - into the last-16 - and will fight either Armenian or Japanese opposition on Sunday week.
However, the mood darkened with the revelation concerning O'Reilly. The Portlaoise middleweight, who claimed gold at the European Games in June 2015 and who also picked up a bronze at his first-ever World Championships, has been informed of the alleged violation of Irish anti-doping rules and is provisionally suspended.
The 23-year-old has been informed his 'A sample' has tested positive. He can now request to have his 'B sample' tested, but can’t take part in any competition until the completion of an investigation. On his Twitter account, O'Reilly said: "Box on the 12th in the last-16 against the winner of Mexico or Iraq....."
In a statement, the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) said: "The Irish Athletic Boxing Association has always maintained a zero tolerance approach to doping and Irish boxing has been one of the most widely tested sports by the National Anti-Doping programme over the last number of years.
"IABA’s policy is that doping is contrary to the spirit of sport and every member of the association has a duty to ensure that the sport is free of doping. We ensure our boxers are available for testing, in and out of competition. The Irish Athletic Boxing Association will not be in a position to comment further until all elements of due process associated with the anti-doping programme are completed in this case."
Meanwhile, Ballymena BC welter Steven Donnelly and St Michael's, Athy lightweight David Oliver Joyce will be aiming to get Ireland off to a winning start at the Rio Olympics on Sunday. The Irish pair meet Zohir Kedache of Algeria and Andrique Allisop of the Seychelles for a place in the last-16 of the tournament at the 9,000 capacity Pavilion 6 venue.
No profile of Donnelly's North African opponent exists on the database, but Joyce's rival is appearing at his second successive Olympics. The 23-year-old, the 2012 Seychelles Sportsman of the Year award winner, qualified for Rio in Cameroon earlier this year after finishing in third place.
The winner of the Joyce versus Allisop three-rounder meets Albert Selimov - who claimed AIBA World Elite gold for Russia in 2007 in Chicago, but who is now boxing for Azerbaijan - in the last-16. Selimov beat Belfast's Sean McComb in the semi-finals of the European Games en route to gold in Baku, Azerbaijan last year.
Olympic champion Katie Taylor received a bye into the last-eight and is one win away from guaranteeing herself at least bronze at the 31st Olympiad. The Bray woman awaits either Finland's Mira Potkonen or Brazil's Adriana Araujo, who box on August 12 in the quarter-finals. Taylor has beaten Potkonen on a number of occasions in the past and Araujo is a bronze medalist from London 2012. The Brazilian received the one invitation place for women for the host nation, who were also awarded five male host places, in the 60kg class.
Taylor and Michael Conlan, both ranked number one in the world by in their respective weights by the International Boxing Association, received byes into the last-16. Conlan will meet either Aram Avagyan (Armenia) or Arashi Mariska (Japan) for a place in the quarter-finals. Paddy Barnes, Joe Ward and Brendan Irvine are between the ropes next Monday, Wednesday and Saturday week.
Irvine is in against Uzbekistan's Shakhobiddin for a last-16 berth in the flyweight class. The Uzbek southpaw, a World Series of Boxing fighter, booked a Rio ticket after finishing first in the Asia and Oceania qualifiers.
IRISH DRAW FOR RIO
August 7 (last-32): 60kg - David Oliver Joyce (Ireland) v Andrique Allisop (Seychelles); 69kg - Stephen Donnelly (Ireland) v Zahir Kedache (Algeria); August 8 (last-16): 49kg - Paddy Barnes (Ireland) v Artur Havhannisyan (Armenia) or Samuel Carmona (Spain); August 10 (last-16): 81kg - Joe Ward (Ireland) v Serge Michel (Germany) or Andrea Mina (Ecuador); August 12 (last-16): 75kg - Michael O'Reilly (Ireland) v Uziel Rodriquez (Mexico) or Waheed Karawi (Iraq); August 13 (last-32): 52kg - Brendan Irvine (Ireland) v Shakhobbin Zoirov (Uzbekistan); August 14 (last-16): 56kg - Michael Conlan (Ireland) v Aram Avagyan (Armenia) or Arashi Mariska (Japan); August 15 (quarter-finals): 60kg - Katie Taylor (Ireland) v Mira Potkonen (Finland) or Adriana Araujo (Brazil)