Darren O’Neill believes the next week represents his best opportunity of qualifying for his second successive Olympic Games.
The Kilkenny southpaw and Ireland’s nine-strong squad, which includes Katie Taylor, are in the Turkish city of Samsun for the 39-nation European Olympic qualifiers which being today. 233 men and 59 women have entered - 22 in Taylor’s 60kg class.
The bottom line for Ireland is that the top three men – the finalist and winner of box-offs between the beaten semi-finalists - and the top two women – the finalists – qualify for Rio 2016.
The days of her great rival, Sofya Ochigava, who Taylor beat in the 2012 World and Olympic finals, appear to be finished in a Russian vest.
Anastasia Beliakova is in her place at lightweight, and Taylor is concentrating on the here and now - dismissing talk of what may happen in Brazil in August.
She insisted: “I haven’t even qualified yet and I’m asked about winning a second Olympic gold. I’ve prepared for a tough qualification process.
Billy Walsh, who was Irish head coach when Taylor won gold at London 2012, believes she’s well able to handle expectations.
“Katie is very accustomed to this type of situation. She has coped with all types of pressure,
“Dealing with pressure it is what separates her from the rest, “ said Walsh who now heads the US team.
If Taylor doesn’t make Rio in Samsun, she’ll have one final opportunity at May’s World Championships in Kazakhstan. A top four finish will suffice in Central Asia to secure her ticket.
Likewise O’Neill also has another throw of the dice if required at the final male qualifier in the AIBA Open Boxing event in Azerbaijan in June.
But if he doesn’t make the cut in Samsun he must win gold as there is only one Rio berth for heavyweights in Baku.
“To win gold in the world qualifier is something no Irish heavyweight has reached in 80 or 90 years, but my focus is on Samsun and the top three, said O’Neill.
“I thought moving up to heavy (from middleweight) the boys would be a little bit slower and wouldn’t be as fit and wouldn’t work as much - I got a rude awakening.”
Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward have qualified for Rio 2016.
Irish boxing will be aiming for another nine places in Samsun.
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