Olympic call rests with me, declares Zaur Antia

Zaur Antia insists he will only make a call on his team for the final ‘amateur’ Olympic boxing qualifier after he assesses the attitude and form of his squad as a selection storm continues to brew.

While the recent call to allow professional boxers into the Rio Olympic Games has attracted much attention, the change will not have any impact on the Irish team as interim head coach Antia will continue to work solely with members of the existing High Performance panel.

Professionals will be able to compete in an Olympic qualifier in Venezuela next month, but the last qualifier for amateur boxers begins in Baku, Azerbaijan on Tuesday week (June 14). Antia yesterday travelled with his squad and fellow coaches John Conlan and Eddie Bolger to Azerbaijan for a pre-tournament training camp where he will make a final call on who fights in the Baku qualifier.

Seven Irish boxers already booked their places in Rio, but four spots remain up for grabs for male boxers. Light-welter (64kg) and middleweight (75kg) are the most contentious classes from an Irish perspective with five Olympic quota places available for those classes in Baku.

Reigning Irish champions Dean Walsh (64kg) and Michael O’Reilly (75kg) would be in pole position to compete but their participation is in doubt after both were sent home from last April’s Olympic qualifier in Turkey due to disciplinary issues. While both Walsh and O’Reilly have travelled to Azerbaijan for the camp, they have been joined by former European champion Ray Moylette (64kg) and Irish Elite finalist Connor Wallace (75kg) who are also being considered for selection.

“I have to decide who’s best in the training camp in Azerbaijan. Myself and the other coaches will watch them and see who performs better, who’s disciplined and who’s committed and then we’ll make a decision as soon as possible,” explained Antia, who is believed to have considered dropping Walsh and O’Reilly from the team after their misdemeanours.

The pair were due to be fined €5,000 each by the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), but it is understood their punishment was decreased to reimbursing the IABA for the travel costs involved in sending them home from Turkey.

It is believed other senior members of the Irish squad were upset by the pair’s behaviour and called for harsher punishments.

“They were punished and it was not easy for them,” said Antia. “They are still under pressure because they have to perform and compete with the team for the last positions to try to qualify. What happened could be a good lesson.

“We will see how they behave there and I will speak with them and find out whether they understand. It’s important that everyone has a chance. Discipline is No 1, of course, but performance is very important,” added the coach. It is not yet certain whether Belfast’s Seán McComb will be considered for selection at 64kg. While the former Irish lightweight champion is expected to travel to Azerbaijan on Saturday, it is believed Antia is likely to choose between Walsh and Moylette for the light-welterweight slot.

Box-offs had been mooted at the contentious weights, but the IABA’s Boxing Council opted to give Antia the final say on selection calls which have to be made by next Friday (June 10).

Heavyweight Darren O’Neill (91kg) and super-heavyweight Dean Gardiner (91+kg) are set to compete in Baku, but the pair must win gold at their respective weights if they are to reach Rio.

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