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Predicting How Ireland's Greatest Ever Boxing Team Will Fare In Rio: Can We Win Five Medals?

Predicting How Ireland's Greatest Ever Boxing Team Will Fare In Rio: Can We Win Five Medals?
By Balls Team

With yesterday's revelations rocking the world of Irish sport, it's easy to forget we still have seven extremely talented boxers in Rio, all of whom will be seeking medals of some description at the Olympic Games.

We've already given a prediction for every Irish athlete in Rio, but boxing deserved its own examination.

SEE ALSO: Predicting How Every Irish Olympian Will Fare At Rio 2016

Katie Taylor will face rival Yana Alekseevna in the Olympic semi-finals if both win their opening two bouts, with Michael Conlan on collision course with old UK adversary Quais Ashfaq and his London 2012 conqueror should he maintain his blistering form.

With eight Irish boxers seemingly becoming seven overnight, our medal chances have been somewhat depleted, but the likes of two-time Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes and the supremely talented world silver medallist Joe Ward will still fancy their own chances of going all the way.

All in all, it should be our best Olympic boxing campaign yet - even without the reportedly departing Michael O'Reilly - and so we've laid out our predictions ahead of Ireland's opener on Sunday, when welterweight Steven Donnelly takes centre stage in Brazil.

Light-Flyweight: Paddy Barnes

Barnes received a bye into the Last 16 but could arguably have done with the extra fight; his injury-plagued last 18 months have seen him miss out on a lot of top class action, his #1 ranking in the World Series of Boxing notwithstanding.

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As you might imagine, a fighter of Barnes' Olympic pedigree in a division now lacking that pesky Zou Shiming should bring silverware for Ireland. The 29-year-old Belfast man is, on his day, the top light-fly in the world, but much will depend on his sharpness following prolonged spells of inactivity.

In Shiming's stead, Cuba's Yoahnys Argilagos - who dominated Barnes' fellow Irish Olympian Brendan Irvine at the Worlds last year - will likely provide the sternest challenge, though Irvine did best him a year previous. Vasiliy Egorov lost to Argilagos in last year's World Championship final but, like his Cuban counterpart, has improved almost tenfold in the intervening period.

Barnes will face the winner of Artur Hovhannisyan (Armenia) vs Joselito Velasquez (Mexico), the latter of whom is dangerous but more effective in WSB format judging by two recent defeats in 3x3 rounds.

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Can Paddy Barnes win gold? Absolutely. Will he? Possibly, but I can see Cuba's Argilago pipping him in a close contest.

Prediction: Bronze

Flyweight: Brendan Irvine

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Flyweight is a division which sees a lot of contenders coming down to three rounds from the longer WSB or APB format, which suggests pacing over three rounds might be an issue.

Irvine can medal here, but the 20-year-old is up against it in a very evenly-matched division. Russian Mikhail Aloyan and Elvin Mamishzada of Azerbaijan could be considered medal favourites, but Irvine has improved exponentially since the Worlds last year.

I expect 'Wee Rooster' to ruffle a few feathers and reach at least the quarters - and perhaps even repeat the feat of his teammate Conlan from four years ago. First up, it's a toughie versus Asian medal hound Shakhobiddin Zoirov of Uzbekistan.

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Prediction: Bronze

Bantamweight: Michael Conlan

A division which, at first glance, seems like a toss-up between Ireland's only ever male World amateur champion and his conqueror from London 2012.

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Belfast's Michael Conlan has envisaged Olympic gold since long before he was rated as the world's best, and you get the impression he simply won't be denied in Brazil. Cuban Robeisy Ramirez, however, dealt a young Conlan a lesson four years ago and is in phenomenal form; the 22(!)-year-old won all 10 of his WSB fights between 2013 and this year, some against fellow Olympians and formidable opposition.

But Conlan is for all intents and purposes a different fighter to kid who came up short against a teen prodigy-Ramirez in the ExCel Arena. He's now the world's best, and unwavering in his belief that he deserves to be. Were a final with Ramirez - who's reportedly not the best trainer - to take place, Conlan's controlled aggression and phenomenal adaptability could pull him through.

Before that, it's the winner of Armenia vs Mexico, a potential quarter-final versus UK rival Qais Ashfaq and - were all of that to go swimmingly - a possible semi with US stand-out Shakur Stevenson. No pressure then, Mick.

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Prediction: Gold

Lightweight: David Oliver Joyce

It would do Joyce a disservice to suggest he's the Cinderella Man of the Irish team, but it's an absolute treat to see him involved at the highest level in the twilight of a compelling amateur career.

Unfortunately for Joyce, his division contains two of the pound-for-pound best amateurs on the planet. Lazaro Alvarez - the Cuban who had the ears boxed off him by John Joe Nevin in London - is a two-weight, three-time world amateur champion, and heavily favoured to emerge with gold. Just beneath him is an all-time great. Albert Selimov of Azerbaijan has one of the most decorated trophy cabinets in amateur boxing, and only lost to Alvarez in the World final because of injury.

But Joyce's come-forward style is such that it might carry him into the latter stages. In any case, it's going to be highly entertaining, and most potential opponents will be hoping to avoid the Mullingar man due to his extremely physical approach.

Ultimately I believe he'll fall just short of a medal as he starts vs a Seychelles fighter in the Round of 32 before a potential match-up with the legendary Selimov - a former killer of Irish dreams.

Prediction: No medal

Welterweight: Steven Donnelly

Steven Donnelly's Last 32 opponent has been drawn as Zohir Kedache of Algeria - an unheralded amateur who lost to fellow Olympian Walid Saidik of Egypt in qualifying.

The Ballymena man should safely outbox Kedache, but after that the tournament becomes a free-for-all. In the 28-year-old's way will stand the likes of African golden boy Mohammed Rabii (Morocco), who Donnelly will likely face for a medal. Rabii is the World no.1, and was also ranked top dog in the World Series of Boxing.

Donnelly qualified to compete at Rio having achieved a fourth place ranking in the same tournament. Only the top two ranked boxers were due to qualify through WSB, but two ranked ahead of him subsequently qualified by alternate methods; The aforementioned Rabii secured his place through the Worlds and Russian Andrey Zamkovoy won his national championships to confirm his place.

Also in the Antrim man's division are perennial Cuban medallist Roniel Iglesias and Kazakh former world champion Daniyar Yeleussinov, along with Venezuelan Gabriel Maestre who toppled Donnelly in the WSB. He does hold a victory, however, over Argentinian Alberto Palmetta.

Donnelly is certainly right up there with 'the best of the rest', but might fall just short of a medal should he face Rabii in the quarters.

Prediction: No medal

Light-heavyweight: Joe Ward

Simply put, the Moate monster is second favourite for gold. Still just 22, Ward's back-catalogue of victories over world class opposition have cemented his status as the second-best 81kg fighter on the planet. The gap from second to first, however, seemed insurmountable in last year's World Championship final, as Cuba's Julio César La Cruz largely outclassed the Irishman en route to gold.

La Cruz is one of the greats, and I don't believe he'll be beaten in Rio. Were all to go according to plan for Ward, he could face La Cruz in the semi-finals. First he'll need to beat the winner of a Germany vs Ecuador tie - with Carlos Mina, the Ecuadorian in question, holding a win over La Cruz from the WSB. Were Ward to progress, he would likely face Mathieu Bauderlique - the 10-0 (5KOs) professional from France who stopped an off-tune Ward at the APB last year.

The path to even a semi-final is a treacherous one, but Ward is talented enough to get it done. But should he face an Olympic-focused La Cruz in the last four, it'll likely be bronze for Ireland.

Prediction: Bronze

Women's Lightweight: Katie Taylor

Having received a bye into the quarter-finals where either a hometown or Finnish opponent await, Taylor is just one victory away from bronze. From there, Taylor would likely face a grudge semi versus Yana Alekseevna, who ended her six-year undefeated streak earlier this year.

I wrote about why you'd be a fool to back against the Bray woman in greater detail here.

Prediction: Gold

Predicted boxing medal haul

Gold: 2

Silver: 0

Bronze: 3

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