Olympic and World Elite bronze medallist Michael Conlan and Joe Ward booked tickets into their second European Elite finals in four years in Samokov, Bulgaria yesterday.
Conlan, the No. 1 seed who claimed a silver medal at the 2013 Europeans, beat Italian bantam Francesco Maietta, and Ward, the 2011 champion aged just 17, outclassed Croatian light-heavy Hrvoje Sep.
Ward, who is signed with AIBA Pro Boxing and who has never lost at European Elite level, can now become the first Irish male boxer to win two European Elite gold medals if he beats Dutch No. 2 seed Peter Mullenberg today.
While Sep was the No. 1 seed, unseeded Ward should really have been in that position as he has won better qualify medals – European and World Elite gold and bronze – than the Croat.
The Moate southpaw proved that point last night with a controlled display off the back and front against the aggressive but out-boxed World Series of Boxing stand out, Ward winning 29-28,30-27,29-28.
“It was a good performance. I’m happy enough. I boxed him from the middle, didn’t engage much. If I get my performance right and give it 100% in the final I’d be confident,” said the 21-year-old.
Earlier yesterday, Conlan, switching constantly from orthodox to southpaw, earned a unanimous 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 decision over the aggressive but anxious Italian.
He’ll now meet England’s Qais Ashfaq in a repeat of the 2014 Commonwealth final which Conlan, boxing for Northern Ireland, won on an identical verdict to yesterday.
“I’m here to win it. As long as I’m winning I’m happy. I fought the English guy, but, you know, I don’t lose,” said Conlan, who is now boxing out of the Clonard BC.
“I went in and got the job done today. I’m going to win the gold tomorrow as he’ll bring out the best in me.”
Meanwhile, Dean Walsh, nephew of Irish head coach Billy, had to settle for bronze despite a courageous performance against Russia’s Vitaly Dunaytev. Both light-welters went at it hammer and tongs from opening to closing bell, but the No. 2 seed got the decision - 29-28,29-28,29-28.
“He’s taking home a bronze which is better that what his uncle did,” added Walsh in reference to himself at the 1983 Europeans, also in Bulgaria and in the same weight class as his nephew.
The first Wexford boxer to win a European Elite medal admitted he was devastated following hi second defeat to the Russian.
“I could have done that bit more in the third. I’m sickened, I thought I should be in the final,” he said.
Conlan, Ward and Walsh have qualified for October’s World Championships and Olympic qualifiers in by virtue of finishing in the top six in their weight classes in Samokov.
Wexford welter Adam Nolan also qualified for Qatar after Belarusian Pavel Kastramin won his semi-final last night.
Seven Irish boxers have now qualified for Qatar. Today’s finals begin at 4.30pm (Irish time) and will be broadcast live on RTÉ2.
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