Three down, five to go. Ireland lost another of its boxers last night as lightweight David Oliver Joyce was given a masterclass in the noble art by world number two Albert Selimov and a third when Irish Olympic chiefs confirmed Michael O’Reilly will not fight in Rio.
Joyce went out with his gloves on but O’Reilly never got near the Rio ring after testing positive for a banned drug contained in a supplement he took before he left Dublin.
He has been isolated from the rest of the team since Friday but will now go home in disgrace, the first Irish boxer ever sent home from an Olympics.
Only Joyce’s family and close friends may have expected a different result for him.
The boxing cognoscenti have marked Selimov as the only man likely to give the Cuban Jorge Alvarez a challenge for the gold medal in the lightweight division.
Selimov has been round the ring a few times at the age of 30, representing first Russia, for whom he won a world title, and now Azerbaijan. It showed in his controlled aggression and fancy footwork.
Joyce never gave up , always on the front foot, throwing punches. But he was cut on the right eye in the second by a punch and needed the doctor to clean it up in the third.
The judges had no doubt about the winner, giving a unanimous points decision though two judges credited Joyce with a round apiece.
One Irishman happy with a result in the division yesterday was former national coach Billy Walsh.
Now coaching the US team, he saw Carlos Balderas Jr go through to the quarter-finals, one round from a medal. He is the second of Walsh’s new charges through to the quarters.
Walsh, though, was not taking too much from the US successes. “There are no prizes at this stage,” he said.
Today sees the entrance of southpaw light-heavy Joe Ward in the Olympic ring, a debut denied him in 2012 when he failed in an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a controversial decision in his qualifying bout with a Turk, Bahran Muzaffa.
He had to be content with watching the London Games on TV at home in Moate.
His inspiration to box came from an Olympics when he watched Kenneth Egan win silver for Ireland at the 2008 Games. By a cruel irony he was to end Egan’s career when he beat him in the 2013 Irish final.
Twice, in 2011 when he was only 17 and again in 2015, Ward won European titles, the only Irishman to do such a double.
Still only 22, he has had to wait for this Olympic chance. He is seeded four in the light-heavies (81kg) and after a bye in the first round he meets Ecuador’s Carlos Mina.
When he is not boxing for fun, Mina composes and sings rap music for a living.
Mina beat a German in his first fight but if Ward is as good as his word that he has come to win, he should not trouble the Irishman. His best result was a quarter-final place in last year’s Pan-American Games.
Ward, a grandson of famous bare-knuckle fighter ‘Big Joe’ Joyce, has come to Rio with big ambitions fuelled by his desire to emulate his hero, the American Andre Ward, who won this Olympic weight in 2004.
“If I turn up 100%, nobody will be able to beat me,” he told Buzz.ie recently.
He qualified for these Games after he reached the world championships final where he lost to the Cuban Julio La Cruz, only Ward’s second defeat in the last four years and the first since 2013.
Even more of a favourite to medal among the Irish is Michael Conlan who has his first outing in the bantamweights (56kg) on Sunday. “It’s just a long wait,” said his father-coach John.
“This is the Olympic Games, there’s no easy draws. You look at countries like Kenya and Colombia (producing) two world-class fighters in Paddy’s light-flys. I think at 56 there are 20 guys capable of getting a gold.”
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