Roche secures Sydney ticket


The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) yesterday hoped that the qualification of Corkman Michael Roche for the Sydney Olympics in September will infuse the rest of the Irish team with the confidence to do the same when they take part in the final two qualification tournaments in Liverpool and Venice.

Roche became the first Irish boxer to copperfasten his place in the 2000 Olympic games when he defeated the Czech Republic's light middleweight Josef Frecer on points (5-2) in the semi-finals of the Chemie Cup in Halle, Germany over the weekend.

In doing so the Sunnyside fighter, who collected his fourth successive light middleweight national championship title in last month's senior championships, achieved his primary objective. Roche (28) will now go to his first Olympic games, having missed qualification for Atlanta four years ago.

Boxing, which has collected almost as many Olympic medals (nine) as all of the other sports combined (10), was concerned that Ireland may not have a competitor at this year's games as qualification becomes increasingly more difficult. The break up of the former Soviet Union has ensured that European qualification is much harder than ever because the number of countries seeking a place has considerably increased.

"Michael Roche is a very skilfull boxer," said IABA president Breandan O'Conaire. "He is very tall, has good reactions and is a boxer rather than a fighter. He is a very good counter puncher and has a good defence, skills which are very important in the current way of marking in amateur boxing."

Irish boxers now have only one chance left for qualification. Although there are two tournaments remaining in Liverpool and Venice, each affords only six of the 12 Olympic weights a crack at a place in Sydney.

"All of the Irish champions are seeking Olympic qualification," said O'Conaire. "The team for Liverpool are currently training with their coaches in Limerick for the tournament the day after St Patrick's Day on March 18th. Hopefully, Michael's qualification will now open the door for a few others to follow."