Casey and O'Neill put down early markers
Myles Casey brought back memories of Andy Lee, the current WBO world champion, for Irish head coach Billy Walsh at the European Games in Baku yesterday.
The Limerick fly, who boxes out of Lee's old St Francis BC in Limerick, and Irish boxing captain Darren O'Neill won their opening bouts, but Ulster bantam Kurt Walker was edged out by Russia's Nazirov Bakhtovar.
Casey, 21, beat Ivan Fihurenka of Belarus on a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) and O'Neill followed that up with an emphatic decision (30-27, 30-24, 30-26) over Romanian heavy Ionut Jitaru.
Walsh said: "I was thinking as I walked into the arena that the last time I walked into a major championship with a Limerick man from the same club was with Andy Lee 12 years earlier.
"The first two rounds were close, although we thought we edged them, but Myles drove on in the third round to take it. It was an excellent performance and we're very happy with him."
Casey, who etched his name into boxing history as he became the first winner of a bout at the new European Games, set the tone early, coming out of the corner on the front foot and working his jab.
"I needed to do that," he said. "I needed to show the judges I was here for one reason and that was to win.
"I'm going to do what I can to win. I know I'm not at my best just yet but he was a tough lad. The next fight, whenever it is, whoever I'm boxing, that's a final to me. That will be my main focus," added Casey.
Casey will now face local Elvin Mamishzada, who received a first-round bye. The crowds at Baku 2015 have shown a partisan passion toward their athletes.
Jitaru took a standing count against O'Neill in the second round, with one judge scoring all three rounds 10-8 to the Kilkenny southpaw and London 2012 Olympian.
"He (Jitaru) should have taken a standing count in the first round as well. It was a top-class from Darren. He followed up Myles' win with a very impressive victory," said Walsh.
Walker lost the first round 2-1 on two of the judges' cards against Bakhtovar, with the Russian winning the second and Walker the third against an opponent who beat him in the Brandenburg Cup in 2012.
"It was a good performance from Kurt. He's obviously very disappointed, but if you don't win the first round you're always going to be under pressure," said Walsh.
London 2012 Olympian Adam Nolan and Michael O'Reilly will be in action today. Olympic champion Katie Taylor meets Bulgaria's Denista Eliseeva in her first bout on Sunday.