The best is yet to come from Michael O’Reilly, according to Irish coach Eddie Bolger, as the Portlaoise middleweight aims for the victory that will seal his Olympic qualification in Baku today.
World medallist O’Reilly is up against it as he takes on ‘home’ fighter Kamran Shakhsuvarly of Azerbaijan in the quarter-finals of the last amateur qualifier for Rio 2016, with the winner set to seal their Olympic place as one of the top five middleweights at the tournament.
Shakhsuvarly previously represented Kazakhstan, but he now boxes for Azerbaijan and, significantly, he will have home advantage for the contest against O’Reilly, who is the No 1 seed at 75kg.
All four middleweight semi-finalists will earn a ticket to Rio, while as a fifth qualification spot at 75kg is awarded to whichever ‘lucky loser’ is defeated by the eventual champion.
But while a loss today would not definitively end O’Reilly’s Olympic hopes, he would have to rely on his Azeri foe going on to claim gold and the European Games champion will be keen to keep his destiny in his own hands.
Bolger, who is working Ireland’s corner alongside head coach Zaur Antia, insisted O’Reilly can improve on his quarter-final win over Mongolian Shinebayar Narmandakh and do enough to upset his home opponent this afternoon.
“He won all three rounds [against Narmandakh] and you can’t really complain, but he can box better so that’s a good sign,” said Bolger.
“He’ll need to, to get the nod over the Azeri in Azerbaijan. He’ll have to put in a really good impressive performance, but maybe that will spur him on,” added the coach.
O’Reilly’s place at the qualifier was not secured until he did enough to impress his coaches at a pre-tournament training camp.
His participation had been in doubt after he was sent home from a European Olympic qualifier last April due to disciplinary issues, along with light-welterweight Dean Walsh.
He is now just one win away from Rio, although O’Reilly has been in this position before having suffered a contentious points loss in a World Championship box-off in Doha against Egyptian Hosam Abdin last October.
After coming through those set-backs, Bolger believes O’Reilly is ready to book his ticket to Rio today.
“Michael doesn’t need any more motivation to keep him focused, he’s very focused and he’s been brilliant in training camp,” said Bolger.
“He’s been very focused, very disciplined and he’s done all that’s been asked of him so hopefully he can get over the line,” added the coach, who insisted that Ireland’s two remaining boxers at the tournament remain sharp despite having had a rest day yesterday.
Clonmel’s Dean Gardiner is also still standing and takes on Moldova’s Alexei Zavatin in the 91+kg semi-finals tomorrow but only the gold medal winner qualifies for Rio at super-heavyweight.
“Sometimes you’re a little bit sluggish after the rest day, but they have to make weight and we had a training day [yesterday] anyway so that keeps them active,” explained Bolger.
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