Ward, the defending champion and No 1 seed in the light-heavy class, beat Italy’s Valentino Manfredonia in yesterday’s 81kg semi-final on a comprehensive unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 30-25, 30-27).
The Rio Olympian said before the fight that if he performed, the Brazil-born Azzurri orthodox didn’t have a chance. He delivered yesterday, though Manfredonia was limping after the first round from a leg injury.
Ward will now meet Russia’s Muslim Gadzhimagomedov — who beat Croatia’s Damir Plantic yesterday — in today’s final looking to become the first Irish male boxer (Katie Taylor has won six) to claim three European titles. Facing a Russian in a major final is unlikely to phase the Irish champion, as he beat Russia’s Nikita Ivanov in the 2011 decider to become one of the youngest international boxers to win European gold, aged just 17.
“The plan all along is to win the gold medal in the Ukraine. That’s what I’m out here for. Gold is always my target,” said Ward.
Meanwhile, Irvine, the No 4 seed in the flyweight class, dropped a unanimous (30-27, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28) decision to Dean Farrell, the English orthodox impressing with his high work rate.
Irvine detonated the heavier punches in the opening two rounds, but Farrell, while missing with the first two shots of his three-punch combinations consistently found the target with the third. Irvine upped the pace in the last frame. A massive left could have changed the course of the fight, but Farrell slipped the shot en route to upgrading to silver.
Walker lost to Mykola Butsenko. The Ukrainian was awarded a 30-27 decision across the board.
The defeat means that Ireland has relinquished the European title it has held for the last four years, courtesy of Nevin in 2013 and Michael Conlan in 2015.
Ward, Irvine, Walker, and Sean McComb qualified for the World Championships in Hamburg. Germany, in August/September in Kharkiv after finishing in the top eight, but Dublin middleweight Emmet Brennan could qualify if Azerbaijan’s Kamran Shakhsuvarly claims gold today. Today’s finals begin at 2pm Irish time.