Darren O’Neill believes he can upset the odds and secure his place in Rio by winning gold at the final ‘amateur’ Olympic qualification tournament, which gets under way tonight in Baku.
Kilkenny heavyweight O’Neill is part of a four-man Irish team looking to book their Olympic spots, with light-welterweight Dean Walsh, middleweight Michael O’Reilly, and super-heavyweight Dean Gardiner making up the team.
Walsh and O’Reilly must secure top-five places in Azerbaijan if they are to qualify for Rio, but O’Neill and Gardiner face the more daunting task of claiming gold in their respective weight divisions if they are to reach the Olympics.
“Obviously, I have a huge task ahead of me,” admitted O’Neill, who could be in action tonight depending on today’s draw. “I have to win it outright and there’s some top-quality boxers left in it, but I’ve been going well this year.
“I have to have faith in myself and believe that if I perform as well as I can that I’ll get the correct decisions and get the rub of the green.
“Training has gone pretty good, I’m feeling fit and holding up well,” said O’Neill, who captained the Irish boxing team at the 2012 Games.
Irish head coach Zaur Antia confirmed there are no injury concerns among the four-man team, who will not know their fight schedule until after today’s draw.
The Irish team arrived in Baku last week for a pre-tournament training camp, with Ireland’s six male Olympians — Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Joe Ward, Steven Donnelly, and Brendan Irvine — also participating before they flew home last Tuesday.
Antia’s fellow coach John Conlan also returned to Ireland to monitor the Olympians’ training, but he believes the Rio squad may soon increase in number if the four-man team in Baku can successfully build on their recent preparation.
“They had a great camp, it was very good sparring with about 15 different countries and there was a variation of styles that the boys got to work with,” said Conlan, father of world champion Michael.
“This is the last-chance saloon for the others to qualify for Rio so they know what the job is, they know what they have to do.”
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