Zaur Antia hails fighting Irish as Katie Taylor and David Oliver Joyce close on Rio Olympics

Ireland’s male and female lightweights Katie Taylor and David Oliver Joyce are one victory each away from qualifying for Rio 2016 after winning their quarter-final bouts at the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey yesterday.

Taylor eased past Denmark’s Yvonne Rasmussen on a unanimous decision and Joyce beat Vazgen Sufaryants of Belarus on a unanimous verdict after a toe-to-toe slug fest.

Antrim’s Brendan “Wee Rooster” Irvine, the No. 1 seed in the flyweight class, is also through to the last-four and has one foot on the plane to Rio after posting a split verdict over France’s Elie Konki.

But London 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill was beaten last night by Azerbaijan’s No. 1 seed Abdulkadir Abdullayev in the heavyweight class on a split (29-28,29-28,28-29).

The Kilkenny southpaw will have one final opportunity to try and make Rio in Baku, Azerbaijan in June, but he must win gold, as there is only once place available in his 91kg weight.

Irish interim head coach Zaur Antia praised his boxers after yesterday’s quarter-final bouts by the banks of the Black Sea.

He said: “Big hearts, big psychological spirits all round from David and Katie. David did his business against a very tough boy. Katie and David were very good. The team all performed.”

Joyce, the No. 3 seed, meets Wales’ Joe Cordina, the No. 2 seed, in the semi-finals tomorrow knowing that a hat-trick over the Cardiff fighter will guarantee a place at the 31st Olympiad.

Cordina, the current European champion who Joyce beat twice in the 2012, received a walkover from the last-eight after Italy’s Domenico Valentino failed a medical on Wednesday morning.

The top three males qualify for Rio in Samsun and even if Joyce or Irwin don’t win, they’ll still get a second shot at qualification in a box-off for third place with the other beaten semi-finalists this weekend.

Sufaryants received a public warning in the third round of yesterday’s clash for pushing as Joyce, who is signed with AIBA Pro Boxing, consistently walked his man down and piled on the pressure.

Taylor doesn’t have the same luxury as her male teammates. She must reach the final as only the top two qualify.

The Olympic champion faces Azerbaijan’s Yana Alexseevna tomorrow in a repeat of the inaugural European Games semi-final which Taylor edged en route to gold in Baku, Azerbaijan last summer.

Alexseevna, who outpointed Sweden’s Agnes Alexiusson yesterday, described Taylor as her hero and inspiration after their clash in Baku.

Meanwhile, Ceire Smith and Christina Desmond lost yesterday. Smith was desperately unlucky to exit to Tetyna Kob of the Ukraine on a split decision.

One judge went with the Cavan BC flyweight and another with Kob, with the third scoring it even, but when it went back to the same judges, they split in favour of the Ukrainian.

Cork southpaw Christina Desmond went out to Hungary’s ex World Youth champion Petra Scatmari on a unanimous decision. Both women were tied at 19-19 after the first two frames but the Magyar middleweight took the final two rounds to seal a 39-37 win.

The Irish duo will now be looking toward next month’s World Elite Women’s Championships, the final qualifier for females.

A top four finish will suffice to book a ticket for Rio in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, Irvine took the first round on two of the three judges’ cards, lost the second on two cards and won the third on all cards against Konki.

“He won round one but the French lad came back strong. Brendan had a great last round.

“He needed to pull out all the stops and he did,” said Irish team manager Joe Hennigan.

Today is a rest day at the 39-nation tournament which will yield 36 Olympic places, 30 of which go to men.

Ireland’s Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly, and Joe Ward qualified for Rio 2016 last year.


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