Ireland’s first two medals of the European Games in Minsk have been secured, both in boxing, on a day when Ryan Mullen came less than a second away from a cycling time trial bronze.
Both Regan Buckley and Michael Nevin will be claiming at least a bronze in Belarus after immense victories at the Urchiche Sports Palace tonight.
Buckley enjoyed a 4-1 victory on the judges’ scorecards in his light-flyweight quarter-final against Spain’s Martin Molina, who has been on the World Series of Boxing circuit.
The 22-year-old from St Teresa’s Boxing Club in Wicklow was given a 29-28 decision by all four judges who were in his favour, but Bosnian judge Tina Poletan scoring it on the same scoreline to Molina.
All three rounds saw three judges to two score it towards Buckley, who now faces Armenia’s Artur Hovhannisyan in Friday’s semi-final, where a minimum of a silver medal will be at stake.
Hovhannisyan went out in the last-32 at the Rio Olympics.
Buckley enthused: “I’m over the moon to be honest. It was a hard-fought fight.
“He came forward and threw a lot of punches, so I had to mix it up a bit.
“The first round I was controlling it very well and I was catching him on the counter.
“Then I was working off the jab in the last round and catching him with some nice shots and that’s what got me the fight. It’s all about the next step from here on out.”
Nevin was also awarded a 4-1 victory on the judges’ cards in his middleweight last-eight encounter with another WSB fighter, Turkey’s Serhat Güler.
The Portlaoise fighter had a storming first round, with four of the five judges awarding him the opener – a pattern repeated in round two.
Two of the five judges - Siarhei Parshyn from Belarus and Aleksandar Vucicevic from Serbia - awarded the 21-year-old Irishman every round, scoring it 30-27 in Nevin’s favour, despite Güler responding strongly in the third and final round.
The Irishman’s next task is to dispatch twice European bronze-medallist Salvatore Cavallaro of Italy in the semis, again on Friday.
Nevin said: “I’m feeling good. I’m happy with my performance and it’s on to the next one now.
“It was a good fight, he was a strong opponent and I feel good. I have a bronze medal at least now and hopefully, I’ll try and change the colour.”
Aoife O’Rourke also scored a 4-1 points victory in Minsk, as she saw off home Belarussian middleweight Viktoriya Kebikava in the last-16.
Though the tricky Belarussian came out punching in the second, O’Rourke’s response was sufficient, and a tough final round saw Kebikava landing some big blows once more, but O’Rourke had done enough to secure a confident opening win.
O’Rourke declared: “I’m very happy to have the first one over with.
“It was a tough fight from the start, but I expected that, as all of the girls at this weight are top class.
“I knew the crowd was going to be loud - I was prepared for it and was able to manage it.”
Next up for O’Rourke is Britain’s Commonwealth Games champion Lauren Price in tomorrow’s quarter-finals.
Welshwoman Price has one World Championships bronze and three European bronzes to her name.
Reigning European champion and world bronze-medallist Hovhannes Bachkov of Armenia was too tough a nut to crack for James McGivern in the last-16 of the light-welterweight, with Bachkov enjoying a unanimous points victory, being awarded every round by every judge.
Ireland again produced occasional moments of promise in the DNA athletics competition, but after finishing fifth in Sunday’s opening round, a fourth-place finish eliminated them in tonight’s quarter-final at the Dinamo Stadium.
There were some high-points, particularly with Ireland winning the mixed 4x400m relay in a new national record time of 3:24.14 via Andrew Mellon, Sinead Denny, Kelly McGrory and Luke Lennon-Ford.
Denmark finished second in 3:24.72, with Hungary third in 3:25.04.
Mellon remarked “It was my first time ever going out of the blocks in a 4 x 400m, so I knew if I didn’t get out it’d be over before it even started. I was happy to get the guys into position.”
Denny said: “I just knew that once I got the baton from Andrew I had to go out hard. I knew that they were quite close so I tried to run as far on the outside of lane one, and I held Portugal off pretty well.”
Individual second-places were achieved by Stephen Gaffney in the men’s 100m (10.62 sec), Gerard O’Donnell in the men’s 110m hurdles (14.29) and Sarah Lavin in the women’s 100m hurdles (13.32) – all earning 10 points for the total tally.
Niamh Whelan was sixth in the women’s 100m in 11.87 seconds, while low results were netted in the three field events, where schools champions were fielded by Ireland.
Grace Casey scored two points out of a possible twelve in the women’s javelin, as Sophie Meredith did the same in the women’s long jump, and Nelvin Appiah netted four in the men’s high jump.
Ireland’s quartet of Paul Byrne, Amy O’Donoghue, Brandon Arrey and Catherine McManus finished joint fourth in the deciding medley relay called “the Hunt”, clocking 4:42.57 alongside Bulgaria in a dead-heat, as Portugal and Hungary qualified for tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Rachael Darragh was beaten for the second time in two matches in the women’s badminton singles, falling 21-7 to 21-9 to Germany’s Yvonne Li.
She rounds off her campaign against Finland’s Airi Mikkelä tomorrow.
After their famous comeback win in their mixed doubles opener last night, Chloe and Sam Magee were beaten by French pair Delphine Delrue and Thom Gicquel of France 20-22 21-19 21-16.
And defending men’s singles champion Pablo Abian of Spain overcame Ireland’s Nhat Nguyen in a tight affair 18-21 22-20 21-13, as the young Irish teen took the opening game, and in a potential upset, almost clinched the match at the end of game two.
It’s Luka Wraber of Austria for him tomorrow.
In canoeing, Jenny Egan will compete in the non-medal B Final of the K1 500m tomorrow, after finishing fifth in her semi-final.
She commented: “I just finished in a new season’s best time of 1.52. That’s the fastest time I’ve done since 2016 so I’m really happy, and I’m through to the B Final.”
Ronan Foley was eliminated in the men’s K1 1000m semis, despite a personal best of 3:37.385.
And Maeve Reidy was dispatched in the last 32 of the Women’s Recurve Individual in archery, as she was beaten 6-0 by Rio silver-medallist Inna Stepanova.
The competition continues tomorrow, resuming with the final 16.
Reidy had won her opening encounter against Ukraine’s Lidiia Sichenikova.