Michael Conlan and Joe Ward set to go for gold
Michael Conlan and Joe Ward booked tickets into the finals of European Elite Championships for the second time 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, while Ward, the 2011 champion when he was only 17, outclassed Croatian light-heavy Hrvoje Sep.
Ward, who has never lost at European Elite level, will 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 outboxed 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 100pc in the final I'd be confident," said the 21-year-old.
Earlier, 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 Games final in 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. That Armenia lad he beat is good, but I'm a different type of animal to all the bantams here."
Irish head coach Billy Walsh, who is working Conlan's corner with Zaur Antia and Eddie Bolger, believes that the Commonwealth final in Glasgow will have little bearing on today's decider. "If anything, it could be a motivating factor for Qais as he'll want to put the record straight," said Walsh
Meanwhile, Dean Walsh, nephew to the Irish head coach, 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 than 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 his second defeat to the Russian.
"I could have done that bit more in the third. I'm sickened. 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.
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