It should have been the most exciting journey of Pat Ryan’s life but when Michael O’Reilly’s coach boards his flight to Rio to see his protege tomorrow, their reunion will be a subdued affair.
The head coach at Portlaoise Boxing Club, where O’Reilly’s talent blossomed, also happens to be the current president of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, and his delight at having O’Reilly take his place among the eight Irish boxers at the Olympics has been evident to all around him.
It was a first for Portlaoise to have an Olympian, and O’Reilly’s late qualification just six weeks ago was a source of huge pride to his coach who has been by the 23-year-old’s side through numerous ups and downs.
His trip to Rio was planned before news of the positive doping test broke but while it now looks highly doubtful he will get to see O’Reilly compete in the ring, it is likely the embattled boxer will look to him for ringside support in his fight to salvage his reputation and career.
As word was awaited from Rio as to whether O’Reilly would formally mount a challenge to try to clear his name, the ripple effect of his positive test continued to be felt at home.
Former Olympian Darren O’Neill, who captained the Irish boxing team at the 2012 London Olympics, said the test result was hugely disappointing and was bound to have an impact on the rest of Team Ireland. “It’s a huge blow to team morale and, inevitably, the boxers will bear the brunt,” he wrote in a blog for RTÉ Sports.
“While boxing is an individual sport, so much of the build-up and preparations take place in a team atmosphere, and the distractions that would have set in on Thursday, and the negative publicity that will readily follow, will help nobody.
“Since the beginning of the High Performance Unit, the reputation of the team was something that was always spoken about: never tarnish the reputation by anything you do or say, in your performance inside the ring or your behaviour out of it.”
Olympic silver medallist, John Joe Nevin, who has since turned professional, urged O’Reilly to face the music and seek the support of his family and friends to get through what he said would be a rough time.
“Honesty is the best approach,” he said. “The tests don’t lie. If it comes back that he has failed it, you just own up and take it on the chin and move on.”
The IABA, Olympic Council of Ireland and Sports Ireland were not commenting yesterday, saying due process had to take its course, and O’Reilly’s teammates were also keeping their views under wraps.
Two-times Olympic medallist, Paddy Barnes, had tried to lighten the mood around the controversy by tweeting that there was indeed a crisis in Irish boxing — because no ginger nut biscuits materialised for the cuppa before bed.
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