Michael Conlan and Joe Ward claimed double gold at the European Elite Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria on Saturday.
Conlan beat English bantam Qais Ashfaq on a unanimous decision (30-27,30-27,29-28) and Ward followed that up with an identical verdict over Dutch light-heavy Peter Mullenburg.
Conlan also scooped the Best Boxer Award and Ward became the first Irish male boxer to win two European Elite gold medals. Ireland also finished in second spot in the medals table.
Russia, Ireland and Team GB, in that order, commanded the top three positions. Conlan’s Best Boxer Award is the second successive occasion that Ireland has won this accolade in the 56kg class after John Joe Nevin at the 2013 Europeans in Minsk.
Combined with Dean Walsh’s bronze medal win and Adam Nolan finishing in the top six, four further places were claimed for the World Championships in Samokov.
In June, Michael O’Reilly, Brendan Irvine and Seam McComb won gold, silver and bronze and qualified for Doha at the inaugural European Games in Baku, where Katie Taylor also won gold.
Likewise, Ireland will be represented in seven of the ten weight classes in Doha, but we miss out on the fly, heavy and super-heavy berths.
Conlan will be able to afford the “luxury” of aiming for a medal in Doha as he’s already secured an Olympic berth through the World Series of Boxing.
“It wasn’t my best performance (Saturday’s final), but it was my best performance at the tournament. Delighted to have won the gold medal as I won silver at the last Europeans, said the Belfast bantam.
“I’m going for the gold (in Doha), I want to be the first Irish male boxer to win a World Elite title and I’m confident I can do that.” If Conlan does win World Elite gold — given that so many roads have been opened up to Rio 2016 - he’ll have qualified for the same Olympics twice! Ward won bronze at the 2013 World Championships.
If the 21-year-old goes one better and reaches the 81kg final in Doha in October he’ll book a ticket for the 31st Olympiad.
“Getting to the Olympics has always been my dream and that will be my target at the Worlds, although it is going to be very tough, said the Moate southpaw.
“I enjoyed the Europeans Championships and being back in the squad. Winning a second gold medal at this level is a very proud achievement for me,” added the AIBA Pro Boxing fighter.
The squad will train in Dublin and have a final training camp in Italy before the World Championships. Irish head coach Billy Walsh set a target of four further places for Doha at the Europeans.
“With a bit of luck we could have got more over the line, said Walsh. “Winning two gold medals and a bronze, the Best Boxer Award and finishing in the second spot in the medals table is a phenomenal achievement considering we had such a small squad.
“The target was to qualify four at the Europeans and we achieved that and took home three medals despite being given a really tough draw.
“Doha is going to be extremely tough. With Olympic places on the line the competition will be absolutely fierce and no quarter will be asked or given.”
Just 23 Olympic places will be available across the ten weight classes in Doha, the lowest yield in the history of the World Championships as a qualifier.With Conlan already qualified for Rio, Ireland will be aiming for Olympic berths in the light-fly, light, light-welter, welter, middle and light-heavy classes.
The light-fly position could end up in an all Belfast box-off between Paddy Barnes and Brendan Irvine. Barnes has already secured an Olympic quota place through the WSB.
However, if Irvine reaches the light-fly final in Doha Ireland will have two boxers qualified for Rio 2016 in the same weight class and only one can travel to Rio.
The Irish squad returned home for Samokov to yet another well deserved heroes reception yesterday, but one of the definitive battles of this campaign will be in the Persian Gulf in October.
Peter O’Donnell was Irish team manager at the 2015 European Elite Championships. Walsh, Zaur Antia and Eddie Bolger were working Ireland’s corner.