Conditioning proves crucial as Irvine assures himself of silver
Irish light-fly Brendan Irvine came from behind to upgrade his bronze medal to at least silver with a thrilling win over Dmytro Zamotayev of the Ukraine at the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, yesterday.
The Irish elite champion dropped the first round on two of the three judges' cards in a high-quality, high-octane 49kg last-four duel.
But, showing superb conditioning from three training camps with the Irish squad, the 19-year-old St Paul's BC (Antrim) ace took rounds two and three on all cards to post a 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 victory.
Irvine will now meet Russia's Bator Sagaluev in the final over three three-minute rounds at 2.30pm (Irish time) today.
"I didn't come here just to take part," insisted the youngest member of the Irish squad in Baku.
"I had to step it up after losing the first round. My corner told me that he had nothing left in the tank and that gave me confidence and I went for it. I'll be going for it again in the final.
"I'm the first fella to get a medal and that's a great feeling, representing your country and your family."
Courtesy of finishing in the top three here, Irvine has qualified for October's AIBA World Elite Men's Championships in Doha, Qatar, which is a qualifier for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
If he reaches the final in Doha, Ireland will have earned two Olympics places in the light-fly class, as Paddy Barnes has already claimed a 49kg quota place through the World Series of Boxing.
However, only one boxer can represent his or her country in each weight class at the Olympics, so Irvine and Barnes could end up in an all-Antrim box-off for a place in Rio.
Meanwhile, Olympic champion Katie Taylor will meet Azerbaijan's Yana Alekeevna in a repeat of the 2014 AIBA World Elite Championships lightweight final in the 60kg semi-final tomorrow.
Taylor swept aside Swedish teen Ida Lundblad yesterday, while Alekeevna, who boxed as Yana Sydor for the Ukraine up to 2012, beat Russia's world feather champion Zinaida Dobrynina.
The 28-year-old Olympic champion beat 19-year-old Lundblad 40-34, 40-36, 40-36, with the German judge giving her two 10-8 rounds.
She said: "I was happy with my performance. She kept coming forward and I had to keep my concentration. She's a talented boxer.
"The next fight is against the opponent I met in the World final last year. That was tough and she's beaten a world champion in the quarter-finals here today.
"I came out here for the gold medal. Gold is always my target in all competitions. I'm only happy when I win the gold medal."
Taylor's only cause for concern was the margin of victory, with many observers believing her dominance should have resulted in a bigger score from the judges.
"Yeah, the judging seems to be a small bit inconsistent at times, but as long as I keep winning that's all that matters," added Taylor.
"There's nothing I can do about it being in their backyard or to change the crowd," added Taylor. "I just go in and try to do my best."
Alekeevna, who bounced back from her defeat by Taylor to win Great Silk Way gold, will keep going until the final bell against the Bray woman. "I'm not going to relax, I will fight till the end," vowed the Azeri.
Portlaoise BC middleweight Michael O'Reilly also made the semi-finals, beating Slovenia's Alijaz Venko 30-27 across the board after dominating in terms of skill and ring craft.
"It's not bronze that Michael is looking for in Baku," said his club coach Pat Ryan. "He's nice and relaxed and he's in a good place with excellent coaching staff around him in Baku. He expects to win."
Irish captain and London 2012 Olympian Darren O'Neill was very unlucky to be on the wrong end of a split decision to Gevorg Manukian in the heavyweight class.
The Ukrainian won the first round of a hard-hitting battle of the southpaws on all cards. O'Neill claimed frames two and three after splitting the judges in his favour, but Manukian got the nod (29-28, 29-28, 28-29).
"There's only a handful of Irish out here and the rest of the crowd booed the decision. That tells the story. I thought I did enough to win," said O'Neill.
"I'm honest with my team-mates and they're honest with me and they also thought I won, but that's sport. The main thing is to put this behind me now and get out there and cheer my lungs out for Brendan."