Zaur Antia set to rebuff foreign suitors

Zaur Antia has given the clearest indication yet he intends to rebuff any overtures from abroad and stay to lead Ireland’s high performance boxing programme as it attempts to rebound from the disappointment of the Olympics in Rio.

Suggestions Canada were leading a wave of suitors hoping to sweep one of the world’s best technical coaches away reached a crescendo during the Games but the Georgian dismissed rumours he may even have been approached during the Games.

“I never spoke (to anyone),” he confirmed to the Irish Examiner. “I don’t want to distract from anything. The boxers did everything possible to the absolute maximum. I really want to say again, this is a strong Irish team.

“We have a great programme. We prepare boxers well. Everything you do, next time you have to do different. There are always ways you can do better. We will learn from things, review everything. We have a very good plan already.”

Rio will ultimately be remembered for all the wrong reasons in a boxing context — the Michael O’Reilly affair, the controversial judging and the failure of the country’s strongest ever squad to claim a medal inside the ring — but the show will go on.

Antia and the high performance programme are due to kick back into gear come October 1. A busy year lies ahead with both a World and a European championships coming down the line in Yakutsk, Russia and Hamburg, respectively.

Asked if he felt his work was still here in Ireland, Antia replied: “I did not make any decision, you know? My work is here. My boys are here.”

Language difficulties can sometimes obscure Antia’s words but the sentiment seemed clear. And the bullish Georgian all but promised Ireland’s boxers will return to the medal podium sooner rather than later having come up empty-handed for the first time since Athens in 2004.

“Of course. This is a very strong team and we have very strong reserves. We will prepare them.”

The high performance interim head coach was among a large party of boxers, sailors, athletes, hockey players and their support staff who flew into Dublin Airport from South America last night and the rousing reception from family and well-wishers was an uplift to his spirits.

Thomas Barr smiled that indefatigable smile of his through a posse of pictures and hugs. Rob Heffernan and wife/coach Marian gathered breath before the last leg of a long journey back to Cork and small children dashed through legs and parked on shoulders to survey the fuss.

It was a welcome break from the continuing ticketing storm that was even then playing out on the national airwaves after the latest developments back in Rio and yet some personal disappointments surfaced amidst the celebrations.

Michael Conlan dealt calmly and candidly with another barrage of interviews, but he couldn’t help but voice his regret at the fact his daughter Luisne had to make do with grabbing for microphones rather than the gold medal he planned to have around his neck.If anything, it makes him hungrier to conquer the world as a pro.

Conlan has already declared he will never fight under the AIBA umbrella again though the body seems determined to send him off with a slap on the wrists.

President Dr Wu Ching-Kao has branded the outburst he made after the unanimous defeat to Vladminir Nikitin as “unacceptable” but it won’t be bothering the Belfast boxer as he takes a holiday and mulls over his options.

It was contestable decisions and a combination of other still debated factors, in and out of the ring, that ultimately saw Team Ireland fall short of its targeted three-medal haul but Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy was declaring the Games anything but a failure.

“What I would say is that Sports Ireland are delighted with the performances,” he explained. “Okay, we were targeting three medals and we got two medals but on the back of that we had 14 top tens and another 14 between ten and 20.

“We’ve never seen that level of performance across the board.”

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