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Ireland's boxing squad rocked by boxer Michael O'Reilly's 'doping violation'

By Vincent Hogan

Published 05/08/2016

Fall from grace: Michael O’Reilly with his Men’s Middleweight 75kg bronze medal at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Doha, Qata, last year
Fall from grace: Michael O’Reilly with his Men’s Middleweight 75kg bronze medal at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Doha, Qata, last year

In the rising heat on Avenida das Americas, a tawdry din was erupting to sting the ears of three good men. Ireland's Olympic boxing coaches sat on a bus outside Teatro Bradesco, staring back at a swarm of media bludgeoning them with questions.

Zaur Antia, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan could not have looked less comfortable, Antia meeting requests to disembark with a weary shrug and upturned palms. They deserved better.

The first news of Michael O'Reilly's alleged doping violation had come their way inside the opulent theatre, whispered in Bolger's ear by a journalist.

He looked startled, tilting quickly into an intense exchange with his colleagues before all three redirected rather wooden gazes towards the stage.

They'd left the Olympic Village yesterday for a boxing draw, but found themselves tossed towards an inquisition rack. When the O'Reilly story broke yesterday, not a single Irish administrator was on hand to advise Antia on the storm now brewing or brief media. Did nobody know?

When the draw ended, the coaches immersed themselves in a swell of international contemporaries spilling out into the theatre lobby, Antia chatting sombrely for a time with his old colleague Billy Walsh.

And, somehow, they then evaded media to be the first three coaches onto the bus.

Paddy Barnes tweeted a request to the journalist who had broken the story to name names.

 

"Who is it?" he asked. "You know so let us boxers know."

That was the tenor of business in central Rio then. An Irish doping story left, initially, to survive on murmur, so much so that all seven of Ireland's male boxers - including Belfast men Barnes, Michael Conlan and Brendan Irvine and Ballymena's Steven Donnelly - found themselves temporarily under suspicion.

From O'Reilly, there was no immediate evidence of whether or not he plans to appeal the inevitable sanction and seek the opening of a 'B' sample.

His provisional suspension means he is not allowed to even train with colleagues in Rio and will not now attend tonight's open ceremony in the Maracana.

Remarkably, he tweeted last night (7.20pm UK time): "Box on the 12th in the last 16 against the winner of Mexico and Iraq..."

On a day when the draw ought to have been centre stage, smoke seemed to be rising from an Irish camp in which all eight boxers arrived with medal potential. It is inconceivable that such flippancy on social media would have been tolerated during Walsh's time as Head Coach.

Twenty-three-year-old O'Reilly is a talented boxer for whom there have been authentic medal hopes at these Games. European Games champion and World championship bronze medallist, he is seeded No.3 in the middleweight division, a status granting him a first-round bye yesterday.

Yet, his relationship with the governing body has not always been a comfortable one and in 2011 he successfully challenged a decision to drop him from a European Youths Championship team in the High Court. He subsequently won silver.

On that occasion, O'Reilly was said to have left a training camp to get damage to his car fixed after he allowed a younger boxer to drive it in a car park. He was in trouble again last April when one of two boxers sent home from a European Olympic qualifier in Turkey for indiscipline, which reputedly led to a €5,000 fine.

Although this is not the first Irish Olympic drug story, O'Reilly - if found guilty - would become the first

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