Today, a huge bombshell hit the Irish Olympic Squad's preparations for the Rio Olympics. Boxer Michael O'Reilly, highly fancied to medal heading into the Games, has been named in the media as the figure at the centre of a positive drugs test that leaves him provisionally suspended from all competition, as the Olympic Council of Ireland later confirmed. Neither the OCI or the Irish Athletic Boxing Association in its statement named O'Reilly as the boxer who returned the "adverse analytical finding", but the identity of the fighter, reported by 'The Irish Examiner' initially, was confirmed by Balls.ie elsewhere.
With the word spreading about O'Reilly's result, some of the most prominent figures in Irish boxing have been having their say on the events in Rio. Adam Nolan, an Olympian in London 2012 who missed out on going to Rio to Stephen Donnelly in controversial circumstances, appeared on RTE 2fm, while 2008 Olympic silver medallist Kenneth Egan appeared on Newstalk's 'Off the Ball'.
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 4, 2016
Both men were clearly very disappointed at what had happened-though they were unapologetic in condemning any action O'Reilly might have taken that could have led to a positive test. Nolan opined that such action would be "very careless from Michael's point of view-on the eve of the biggest ever competition he was going to (take part in)", and bemoaned the timing of the news, especially at such a "late stage":
He was one of our medal hopes; for this to happen is a bombshell for Michael and his family-and the other Irish boxers and coaches in how they deal with this. It's a tough one to take.
Nevertheless Nolan was adamant that the news would not impact on the performances of the other Irish boxers, saying that while it was "a little bit of a blemish on preparation", the "world-class coaches" in charge of the boxers would be able to "keep the focus on the job in hand" for O'Reilly's team-mates.
When asked whether O'Reilly should now be moved out of the Olympic Village in order to avoid distracting his team-mates, Nolan answered in the affirmative.
Yeah, absolutely. It's going to be a tough call to remove him from the Village, but I think for the benefit of the team and for their preparation and mental well-being it is important for Michael to be removed for the next forty-eight hours.
And Nolan admitted that while it would be hard to see an Irishman leave the boxing team without fighting when Nolan himself had fought so hard to try and get into the team heading to Brazil, he said he felt more pity for young Newry scrapper Conor Wallace (now sparring with Conor McGregor ahead of his fight against Nate Diaz), who O'Reilly beat in a box-off to reach the Games.
It's tough for myself and the likes of Darren (O'Neill) but for young Conor Wallace...I know he wouldn't be out of place at the Rio Olympics. So he's probably looking on thinking (about) what could have been.
And Nolan made the point that the result could prove "embarrassing" for Pat Ryan, who holds roles both as O'Reilly's coach and as the President of the IABA.
Michael O'Reilly not low hanging fruit. Serious contender here.
— Kieran Cunningham (@KCsixtyseven) August 4, 2016
Nolan and Egan were equally scathing of any lack of care taken by the 23-year old over what it was he put into his body that may have caused a positive result. Nolan called it "careless", saying that there are "no excuses" if O'Reilly is proven guilty; Egan told Ger Gilroy that "even if it wasn't a PED (performance enhancing drug), he's a high performance athlete. Even when you have your time off, you shouldn't be going down that road."
Like Nolan, Egan felt the team would respond in a professional manner, by continuing to support each other in the competition.
It is a massive shock for the team. They've worked together, they've trained together-but at the end of the day, it's an individual sport and they know that...it is shocking, but they are out there to perform.
He definitely had a realistic chance of winning a medal. He has talent coming out of his ears (but) he has had discipline issues over the years...it's an awful shock...for him to have to go home and address the media.
As a man who has been through dark times himself, Egan knows all about how tough life can be in the spotlight when things are difficult in one's personal life. And he called on people to rally around, rather than condemn, Michael O'Reilly if he is forced to return home.
It is heartbreaking stuff (but) he will have to be looked after himself. He is very vulnerable right now. It was probably a silly mistake but he will need to be looked after...he will have to deal with the media, but I think he should deal with it on his own terms.
And Egan was crystal clear on the duty of responsibility held by athletes who receive state sponsorship to represent their country:
It is high performance sport. You are being funded (by) the government-you have to be clean at all times.
It is unclear at this early stage whether or not the drug was performance-enhancing, or whether or not it was taken intentionally. But, right now, Michael O'Reilly is in a very lonely place.