A bitterly below-par return for Ireland’s greatest Olympic sport, it is interesting to consider how history will remember the Rio Games. Will the Mick Conlan controversy be front and centre of the Reeling in the Years segment? Or will the Billy Walsh saga be the main focus as it has been for many commentators? Perhaps even Katie Taylor’s tears will be people’s abiding memory of these Games.
With this in mind, we take a look at the fates of the eight Irish boxers who flew to Brazil as potential history-makers – but returned with nothing to show for their immense talents. This wont be a broad ‘what went wrong article’ – stay tuned for that in the coming days – but rather an analysis of the performances of each Irish boxer individually.
Paddy Barnes – Light Flyweight (49kg)
The man I was most confident of taking home gold lost in his opening bout to Spain’s Samuel Carmona Heredia. While the outcome was not what he wanted, the Belfast man can’t be accused of under-performance or ‘bottling’ it. Barnes gave everything he had left in those nine minutes but it was not to be. He had said beforehand that the only man who could stop him winning gold was himself, and while he meant that in a mental sense, it still rang true with the 29 year old being denied by his own body. Uncontrollable weight issues left Barnes a shell of the fighter we all know and love. Who knows, if the light flyweight limit was 49.5kg he could have romped to gold.
Brendan Irvine – Flyweight (52kg)
Team Ireland’s youngest fighter lost his opening bout to Uzbek Shakhobidin Zoirov. While it was perhaps not a vintage performance from the Wee Rooster, the 20 year old’s best would still most likely have come up short against the man who would go on to win Olympic gold. The Belfast man fought bravely against a stronger and sharper opponent and will be better for the experience. Still growing into the weight, Irvine will be a real contender in four years time in Tokyo.
Mick Conlan – Bantamweight (56kg)
Undoubtedly the biggest story of the Games. The Belfast man got through his opening bout against Armenia’s Aram Avagyan while still in first gear to set up a medal bout with Vladimir Nikitin. Not much more can be said about the quarter final with the Russia, with Conlan clearly winning but being denied by the scorecards. It was not a case of under-performance from the Clonard boxer, indeed his bout against Nikitin was the best I have ever seen him fight. Conlan’s post-fight grievances have made the World sit up and take notice which should benefit the 24 year old in future and, hopefully, lead to changes in the AIBA.
Davey Oliver Joyce – Lightweight (60kg)
Brendan Irvine was still in primary school when Joyce began his campaign to qualify for the Olympics. So often denied, the Mullingar man made it to Rio and got a win under his belt against Andrique Allisop of the Seychelles. Facing Azeri Albert Selimov in the last 16, Joyce was always up against it. The St Michael’s Athy boxer gave everything he had and can be proud of his efforts, but he was simply beaten by a better boxer.
Katie Taylor – Lightweight (60kg)
The debatable nature of the scorecards of her quarter final with Finland’s Mira Potkonen should not mask the fact that this was not vintage Katie Taylor. Perhaps over-trained, the Bray boxer shipped way too many shots against a Scandinavian opponent she had beaten multiple times previously. Age can be cited as a reason for her decline from her peak levels of four years ago, but even then, especially against a basic fighter five years he senior, and as Taylor said herself, she “should be beating these girls.”
Steven Donnelly – Welterweight (69kg)
Ireland’s hero of the Games, the Ballymena man was the only boxer to win two bouts in Rio. The All Saints fighter roused the team with two impressive wins over Algerian Zohir Kedache and Mongolian Tüvshinbat Byamba, looking sharp in the process. With so many question marks over him coming into the Olympics, Donnelly answered any critics with these two wins, Byamba especially. Defeated in his medal bout with Morocco’s World champion Mohammed Rabii, Donnelly comes home from Brazil with his head held high and his standing vastly improved.
Michael O’Reilly – Middleweight (75kg)
An intensely stupid decision, and one which details are still sparse on, before the Games potentially robbed O’Reilly and Ireland of a medal. Bouts against Mexican Misael Rodríguez and Hosam Bakr Abdin of Egypt were very winnable to get the Portlaoise BC fighter a bronze medal and a semi final with Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev – whom he was narrowly defeated by in the World Championships. His career in tatters, O’Reilly will have to live with his decision for the rest of his life as the rest of us wonder what could have been for one of the most naturally talented fighters of recent years.
Joe Ward – Light Heavyweight (81kg)
The two public warnings which saw Ward edged out in his opening bout by Ecuador’s Carlos Mina were certainly frustrating. However, so was Ward’s performance, which was nowhere near the high standards he has set in recent years. The Moate man struggled to adapt to Mina’s rugged brawling style, perhaps being overawed on the Olympic stage. Still young and still immensely talented, it is hoped that Ward can bounce back from this and aim for Tokyo redemption.