Joe Ward becomes first Irish male boxer to win two European senior boxing titles
Twenty one year Moate light heavyweight Joe Ward has become the first Irish male boxer to win two European senior boxing titles.
Ward, who missed out on the London Olympics in 2012, justified his favourites tag by outclassing Dutch soldier Peter Mullenberg in the 81kg final in Samokov, Bulgaria.
Remarkably Ward has never lost a fight in these championships. Four years ago as a seveteen year old he caused a sensation in Ankara by winning the gold medal in the light heavyweight category in his first major internatonal tournament.
Nowadays he wouldn't be allowed box in the event as the age limit is nineteen. In 2013 in Minsk he looked on course to retain his title but dislocated his knee cap after a clash of legs with his Polish opponent in the preliminary round and was forced to retire.
But his career is now back on track after this win in Bulgaria. He participated in the newly launched APB professional series this spring but failed in his attempt to qualify for the Olympics via this route after suffering a stooage defeat in what was effectively a final elminator for Rio.
As a result of that defeat he was allowed back to compete at the European and he made the most of the opportunity.
The result of the contest against the Dutchman was never in doubt. Mullenberg lacked nothing in effort or graft but he simply couldn't get close enough to the southpaw from Westmeath to inflict any damage.
Ward picked him off throughout the contest and although one judge awarded Mullenberg the second round ultimately it was mostly one way traffic. In the final half minute Ward picked up a cut over his eye after a clash of heads.
Had it happened earlier in the contest it might have been a source of concern but it scarcely mattered as Ward powered to a 30-27, 30-27; 29-28 win on his way to collecting his third major championship medal - two European golds and a bronze from the world championships in 2013.
Next stop for the all conquering Irish team will be the world championships in Doha in October. Seven Irish boxers have qualfied for Doha at which qualification places for the Olympics are up for grabs. Conlan and Paddy Barnes have already qualified for the Rio Games.
But Ward in particular will be looking to finally fulfil his ambitions and qualify for an Olympic Games before his likely exit to the professional ranks.
However, in the majority of weight divisions only the finalists in Doha will earn automatic qualification for Rio and the only Irish boxer to ever reach a World championship final Jason Quigley - who won silver in 2013 - is now boxing professionally in the US.