Irish boxing could surpass its remarkable record at the last five European Championships in Kharkiv, Ukraine this weekend.
Joe Ward, Kurt Walker and Brendan Irvine, already guaranteed three bronze, are aiming to upgrade to at least silver in today’s semi-finals.
Ward struck double gold in 2011 and 2015 and has played a significant role in growing Ireland’s reputation as the top boxing nation in western Europe at the last four Continental Championships.
The defending light-heavy champion today faces Italy’s Valentino Manfredonia (who beat Darren O’Neill, team captain in Kharkiv, on a split decision in the 2014 EU final) for a place in tomorrow’s 81kg decider.
“That Italian is a good fighter but if I perform he will have no chance. He’ll have his hands full with me,” said Ward.
Ward completely outclassed Scotland’s Sean Lazzerini in the last-eight, with the Glaswegian antagonising the Westmeath southpaw after slamming down his fists when invited to touch gloves by the referee before the fight.
“It was the only time he touched me,” added Ward whose fellow Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine meets English flyweight Dean Farrell of Birmingham over three, three-minute rounds this afternoon.
Walker is in against Ukrainian bantam Mykola Butsenko, who was beaten in the 2013 European final in Minsk by John Joe Nevin on a unanimous decision.
Ireland, courtesy of Olympic silver and bronze medallists Nevin and Michael Conlan, who have both since turned professional, has held the European bantamweight title for the last four years.
Coach Zaur Antia, meantime, has his sights set on having a strong Irish presence in the finals.
“We are confident. Everyone is okay. Our plan is to do the right things. I am thinking about gold. More important to me is to give them proper plans and I am asking them to implement these.”
Ward, Walker, Irvine and Sean McComb qualified for the World Elite Championships in Hamburg Germany later this year after reaching the quarter-finals in Kharkiv.
European Championships, Kharkiv, Ukraine: 52kg:
B Irvine (Ireland) v D Farrell (England); 52kg:
D Zamatev (Ukraine) v P Asenov (Bulgaria); 56kg:
K Walker (Ireland) v M Butsenko (Ukraine); 56kg:
P McGrail (England) v J Quilles (Spain); 81kg:
J Ward (Ireland) v V Manfredo (Italy); 81kg:
D Plantic (Croatia) v M Gadzhimagomedov (Russia).
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