Olympics now within touching distance for Irish fighters

Irish interim head coach Zaur Antia believes that Olympic champion Katie Taylor will record a comprehensive third straight win over one of her biggest rivals today.

David Oliver Joyce, Brendan Irvine, and Taylor are in last-four action at the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey, this afternoon, one win each away from booking tickets for Rio 2016.

Taylor meets Azerbaijan’s Yana Alexseevna, who boxed for Ukraine as Yana Sydor up to 2012. Joyce faces Britain’s current European champion Joe Cordina, and Irvine is in against Armenian flyweight Narek Abgaryan.

None of today’s opponents have beaten Irish fighters in their five encounters with our boxers since 2012.

If that statistic remains intact this evening, Taylor, Joyce, and Irvine will join their Irish teammates Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly, and Joe Ward on the plane to the Olympic Games.

Taylor beat Alexseevna in the 2014 World lightweight final and 2015 European Games semi-final. Joyce holds two decisions over Welsh lightweight Cordina from 2012 while Abgaryan lost to Conlan in 2013.

Alexseevna emerged as a serious contender to Taylor after their European Games semi-final went down to the wire last summer in Azerbaijan.

But in the three multi-nations tournaments she has competed in since the Baku cliffhanger, she’s failed to get beyond the semis.

Antia said: “The Azerbaijan girl is a very good boxer. We remember her from last time but I believe that Katie will win better this time. That is our ambition. I’m very positive. The performance of our boxers Katie, David, and Brendan will show everything in the semi-finals. We are confident. The team is confident.”

Brendan Irvine
Brendan Irvine

Irvine and Joyce will have a second bite of the cherry if they lose today, as the beaten male semi-finalists meet in box-off tomorrow and Sunday to decide the top three for Rio. The female boxers that lose this afternoon can’t qualify directly, as only the top two (the finalists) in each of the three Olympic weights qualify in Samsun. However, the losers of today’s semi-finals will go into a box-off for third and fourth spot tomorrow and Sunday and can qualify if the finalists in Samsun also meet the qualification standard (a top four finish) again at May’s World Championships in Kazakhstan.

In the event of a boxer qualifying for Rio 2016 twice, the World place will prevail and the Olympic berth from Samsun kicks back to the winner of this weekend’s third and fourth place fights.

The bottom line for Taylor is that if she claims a 166th win from her 174th outing today she’ll be through to her second Olympics.

Likewise with Joyce and Irvine. Three wins and Ireland will have at least seven boxers at the 31st Olympiad — our biggest representation since the qualification era began for the 1992 Olympics.

Antia, Eddie Bolger, and John Conlan, father of World Elite champion Michael Conlan, are working Ireland’s corner in Turkey.

David Oliver Joyce
David Oliver Joyce

Turkey represents the end of the continental qualification process following the completion of the Americas, Asian, and African tournaments earlier this month and last. Some 201 of the 286 boxers that compete at each Olympics will have qualified when the final bell rings in Samsun on Sunday. Three qualifiers remain after this weekend.

Irish team manager Joe Hennigan believes Taylor, Irvine, and Joyce have the international know how to increase Ireland’s share of Rio bound boxers.

“When there’s Olympic places on the line it will get very intense and competitive, but Katie and David are very experienced international boxers,” he said.

“They’ve both boxed at the top level internationally for years now and Brendan won silver at the European Games last year and reached a World Elite quarter-final.

“Of course it is going to be tough, but that’s what you expect at this level. This level is the level our teams have been competing at and winning at consistently.”

European Olympic Qualifiers, Samsun, Turkey:


Semi-finals 52kg: Brendan Irvine (Ireland) v Narek Abgaryan (Armenia) (4pm Irish time, approximately); 60kg: Katie Taylor (Ireland) v Yana Alexseevna (Azerbaijan) (12.30pm); 60kg: David Oliver Joyce (Ireland) v Joe Cordina (Great Britain) (4.45pm)

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