Irish head coach Zaur Antia believes Michael O’Reilly and Dean Gardiner can take another step towards Olympic qualification tonight after Darren O’Neill’s dream of reaching a second Games ended yesterday.
Portlaoise middleweight O’Reilly and Clonmel super-heavyweight Gardiner are the last Irishmen standing at the final ‘amateur’ Olympic qualifier in Baku and both fight in this evening’s session at the Sarhadchi Arena.
World medallist O’Reilly, the No 1 seed at 75kg, will take on Mongolian Shinebayar Narmandakh after overcoming Vitali Bandarenka of Belarus yesterday with a 3-0 win.
Antia was impressed with O’Reilly’s victory, which leaves him two wins away from booking his ticket for Rio as the top five middleweights qualify for Brazil.
“The first round was difficult but by the last round, he was exceptional,” said Antia.
“He fights a Mongolian next. He’s a good boxer, but we’re very confident. Michael’s in good shape. He’s ready and I know he’ll give everything to win,” added the Irish coach, who also backed Gardiner to progress.
The Tipp super-heavyweight faces a tough quarter-final against Ukrainian Viktor Vykhryst in the 91+kg weight division where only the gold medallist will qualify for Rio.
“He’s a big boy, the same as Dean, but Dean is capable of beating him if he implements the plan and I’m confident he can,” said Antia.
“He knows this is his last chance and he has to push himself.” O’Neill also needed to claim gold in order to qualify for Rio but the Kilkenny heavyweight fell at the last-16 stage yesterday, suffering a 3-0 unanimous decision points loss to Nigerian Wesley Apochi.
The London 2012 Irish team captain, who boxed at middleweight (75kg) during those Games, has been competing at heavyweight (91kg) and Antia explained: “It’s very disappointing for Darren. He met probably the strongest boxer, physically, in this tournament.”
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