Euro stars Michael Conlan, Dean Walsh and Joe Ward guarantee medals
Michael Conlan, Dean Walsh and Joe Ward guaranteed Ireland at least a hat-trick of bronze medals after recording last-eight wins at the European Elite Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria yesterday.
But London 2012 Olympian Adam Nolan bowed out after dropping a unanimous decision to Pavel Kastramin of Belarus just 24 hours after toppling Russian No 1 seed Radzhab Butaev in the welter class.
Ward, the 2011 European Elite champion, exacted a measure of revenge after taking all three judges with him - 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 - against Kastramin's compatriot Mikhail Dauhaliavets, a London 2012 Olympian.
"I caught him with a few in the second round and I took over from there, happy enough with my performance," said Ward, who will face Croatia's No 1 seed Hrvoje Sep in the semi-finals tomorrow.
Conlan got proceedings underway on a unanimous decision over lanky Danish bantam Frederik Jensen, the London 2012 bronze medalist and No 1 seed winning 30-27 across the board.
Jensen sportingly held the ropes down for Conlan to exit the ring after the fight, but he wasn't exactly sporting during the bout, with the ref ticking him off for hitting with the inside of the glove three times.
Conlan switched from orthodox to southpaw and back and scored with solid combos throughout, but Irish head coach Billy Walsh reckons he needs to show more composure.
"The Dane is probably the best boxer I have seen coming out of Denmark in years, tall and very awkward. Michael was a bit tense. He was trying to take him out," said Walsh.
"He needed to be more relaxed and focused on his boxing."
Conlan will meet Italy's Francesco Maietta, whose club coach is the wonderfully named Domenico Brillantino, in tomorrow's 56kg semi-final.
Walsh, the first Wexford boxer to win a European Elite medal, meets Russia's Vitaly Dunaytev, who beat the Irishman in the Feliks Stamm semi-final in Poland last year, tomorrow.
The Irish Elite champion had to put in a big shift against Hungary's Nyeki Georgian before subduing the aggressive light-welter 30-27, 30-27, 29-28.
Walsh, boxing on the counter, took the first, but the Georgian edged the second before the Leinster ace's slick counter-punching skills and movement nailed the third and victory.
"I turned it on, I had to turn it on, your man was tough. He wasn't really good, but he was tough," said Walsh, a nephew of the Irish head coach.
Conlan, Walsh and Ward have now qualified outright for October's World Elite Championships and Olympics qualifiers, although Conlan has already secured an Olympic berth through the World Series of Boxing this year.
The top six boxers in each weight class - the semi-finalist and quarter-finalist beaten by the eventual finalists this week -qualify for Qatar.
Likewise, Nolan will be hoping that Kastramin reaches Saturday's final as that will also book the Bray BC southpaw's ticket for Doha.