Ward closes on Rio spot despite taking foot off gas
Four Irishmen - Joe Ward, Michael Conlan, Michael O'Reilly and Brendan Irvine - will bid to secure at least bronze medals at the World Championships in Doha today.
For Ward, O'Reilly and Irvine, there is the added incentive of taking a step closer to a place at the Rio Olympics.
Irish male boxers have won six Olympic medals in the last seven years, whereas they have secured only four at the World Championships - silver and bronze respectively for Jason Quigley and Joe Ward in 2013, and previously a pair of bronzes for John Joe Nevin.
Having established an unassailable 20-18 lead after two rounds against Oleksandr Khyzhiak from Ukraine, Ward eased up in the final round yesterday, although he insisted afterwards that he wasn't trying to conserve energy ahead of today's contest.
The Irishman lost the last round on three judges' cards but still got the decision on a unanimous 3-0 verdict with all three judges scoring the fight 29-28.
According to team coach Billy Walsh, Ward has a habit of taking his foot off the pedal when he knows he has done enough to win.
"He is inclined to do that even though he wouldn't admit it. He is a very smart boxer and when the old computer scoring was there he knew when he was a point ahead and he wouldn't do more much than stay a stay point ahead," said Walsh.
Next up for Ward is Mikhail Dauhaliavets from Belarus, whom he beat at the European Championships in August.
Conlan will be fancied to beat Aliyev Tayfur from Azerbaijan, and so equal the achievements of Nevin and Katie Taylor - the only two Irish boxers to win medals at the Olympic Games as well as the European and World Championships.
Irvine, himself just 19, faces 18-year-old Cuban Joahnys Argilagos in the last eight in the light-flyweight category.
European Games gold medallist O'Reilly faces gold medal favourite and defending middleweight World champion Zhanuber Alimhanuly from Kazakhan, who beat Jason Quigley in the 75kg final two years ago.
Meanwhile, a luckless Sean McComb bowed out of the championships after a controversial 2-1 loss to European Games gold medallist Albert Selimov from Azerbaijan.
In an extremely tactical contest, the better-known Selimov found favour with two of the judges who gave him the first two rounds which effectively put him into an unassailable 20-18 lead en route to a 29-28, 29-28, 27-30 verdict.