Aidan Walsh guaranteed a medal after impressive morning for Irish boxers at Tokyo Olympics

It now means Ireland will take a third medal at the Games - with a gold and a bronze coming in the rowing in the last few days.
Aidan Walsh guaranteed a medal after impressive morning for Irish boxers at Tokyo Olympics

Ireland's Aidan Walsh is in the semi-finals in Tokyo. Picture: INPHO/Photosport/Steve McArthur

Aidan Walsh has guaranteed a third medal for Ireland at Tokyo 2020 with victory over Mauritius’ Merven Clair this morning.

The Belfast man secured his podium place via split decision in today’s welterweight quarter final, triumphing on ringside scorecards of 29-28, 28-29 and three of 30-27.

A first Olympic medal in the ring for Ireland since London 2012, Walsh has now brought this country’s overall boxing honours tally to 17.

Still to be determined, of course, is the colour, with Walsh bidding to upgrade his would-be bronze by progressing to next week’s gold medal decider.

Standing between the Monkstown BC man and that Olympic final is top-ranked Pat McCormack of Great Britain, with Sunday’s semi pegged for 4.03am start.

Come what may, Walsh’s form heading into the final four could hardly be better, the 24-year-old having followed up Tuesday’s virtuoso debut performance with a surgical display here.

Unlike in that previous outing, Walsh was forced to wade through the cagey proposition set forth by Clair, the Belfast man eventually winning-out in an early battle of jabs, scoring with long right hands from the outside.

That pattern prevailed into the second, Walsh largely quelling the Mauritian’s approaches with trademark pivots around the perimeter.

Clair, himself a 2016 Olympian and repeat African Games medalist, did begin to stake his claim at the midpoint of round two, corralling Walsh’s perpetual motion with scoring blows on the front foot.

Despite having his lead narrowed on the scorecards heading into the deciding stanza, Walsh’s command of proceedings remained teflon as he largely sought to evade any prospect of a tide-turning blow from the African, metronomically pot-shotting on the back foot, clubbing homing with stinging right hands as Clair’s last-gasp rallies ultimately proved in vain.

"I don't even know what to say, it's crazy", Walsh told RTÉ post-fight.

"The amount of training I've put in, the amount of sacrifices from my coaches, my club coaches, my family, my girlfriend, everybody. It's amazing. I just have so much support, I'm so grateful, and I can't believe it!

"I just do what the coaches tell me, they come up with a game plan and you just do it. Just listen to their voices, and do what you do. They're playing a computer game, I'm just the operator in there! I'm happy with the performance, but I want to progress on and on.

"You're always striving for more and more and more. You want to be the best. I feel like I'm just improving all the time, and learning. Adapting new skills, new techniques to move up the ladder.

"Pat [McCormack] is now facing Ireland's Aidan Walsh, that's the way I'm looking at it. It's just about going in there with the belief you can beat anybody, believing in myself.

"It's amazing to have her [sister Michaela, fellow Olympian] here, we do everything together. Everyone knows us as 'the brother and sister'! When I was younger, everyone was afraid of my big sister!

"She's my best friend, I'd do anything for her. And she'd do anything for me. We live and breathe this journey; if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here. When I was young and running about the streets, she was the one pulling me in because she saw the talent I had.

"And now I'm here. I watched all the [Belfast Olympic medalists] down the years, Paddy Barnes and Mick Conlan, seeing them come back home on the big buses. I was there watching, and now I'm with them. It's hard to believe."

Walsh’s momentous achievement continued a morning to remember in the ring for Team Ireland.

Indeed, some 90 minutes earlier, Kellie Harrington got her own Olympic odyssey off to the best possible start with a comprehensive triumph over Italy’s Rebecca Nicoli.

The Dubliner is now one fight away from her own podium spot; she will square off with Imane Khelif of Algeria for a place in the 60kg semis.

Also hoping to join Aidan Walsh amongst the medal medley is his Ulster compatriot Kurt Walker, the featherweight star fresh from a sensational upset of gold medal favourite Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov on Wednesday.

Alas, the path doesn’t get much easier for the Antrim man, with America’s former world silver medallist Duke Ragan providing stiff opposition next time out.

Sunday’s quarter-final, which is scheduled for a 3.30am start, also heralds a renewal of acquaintances with Irish boxing’s decorated former head coach Billy Walsh, who now notably heads-up Team USA.

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