Aidan Walsh has secured Ireland’s first Olympic medal in boxing since the London Olympics in 2012.
he Belfast welterweight comfortably outpointed Merven Clair from Mauritius in their quarter-final bout at the Kokugikan Areana in Tokyo.
He now meets the number one seed Pat McCormack from Britain in the semi-final on Sunday where he will have a chance to upgrade to silver.
As he did in his last 16 contest, Walsh stood off his opponent and caught him on the counter punch when he ventured forward. It was a tactical battle in the opening two rounds but Walsh’s accurate jab was finding the target whereas Clair cut a frustrated figure.
Walsh won the first round on all five judges' cards which was crucial to his game plan as it forced his opponent to come forward more frequently. Clair did have some success in round two and two of the judges give him the stanza.
But as long as he stayed upright Walsh was heading to the podium, though there was a moment of concern early in the third round when the referee warned Walsh to stand and fight. But the Belfast fighter comfortably saw out the bout to go through to the semi-final on a 4-1 majority decision - 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28, 28-29.
He is the ninth fighter from Belfast to medal in the Olympics following in the footsteps of John McNally (1952), Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell (1956), Jim McCourt (1964), Hugh Russell (1980), Wayne McCullagh (1992), Paddy Barnes (2008 and 2012) and Michael Conlan (2012).
“It’s incredible, it’s amazing, it’s something that I dreamed of since I was no age.
“The same as Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Hugh Russell. I was talking to Hugh Russell before I came out here and it’s amazing now that I’m in the same situation that he was in. Obviously, I want to go further. It’s really, really good."
Reacting to the news that he was the ninth Belfast born fighter to win an Olympic medal he said.
“I’m getting shivers here just thinking about it.”
Walsh said he had full confidence in the tactics his coaches had devised from him.
“It’s the same again, what Zaur (Anita) and Dima (Dmitrij) tell me what to do. When I’m listening in the corner, they gave me the right tactics. It’s all about the right tactics and they always give me the right tactics.
“You just have to listen to them, and I’ve learned that over the years, to listen more and more and more and do what I’m told."
Walsh confirmed the referee had told him to fight in the final round.
“He told me to fight. I’ve been getting that my whole life, so I have, people saying ‘fight, fight, fight, hurry up and move’. I’ve always had that style of moving.
“I’m just now implementing more stuff while I’m moving that the coaches are showing me and I’m learning more and more styles and techniques and tactics while on the move whereas before I used to just move and not really do as much.
“Now I’m growing as a fighter, I’m not just going on the move, I’m going backwards and going forwards and it’s great.”
Even though he was in control of the fight he waited until the announcement before believing he was through to an Olympic semi-final.
“You don’t really know until your hand is raised after the final bell. When I got back to the corner I said to Zaur ‘Did I win?’. In that moment you’re just looking for confirmation from anybody, looking up to my sisters, the coaches Zaur and Dima, and you’re just looking for confirmation and then when your name gets called it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Walsh again paid tribute to his sister Michaela for her support.
“Me and her are best friends. I would actually cut the medal in half and give her half of it, that’s how much she means. I’m disappointed for her that she didn’t come out here and create history together, that would have meant a lot to me. But it’s just boxing, and we’ll come again for the next Olympics and try and create more history."
Following the fight, Michaela tweeted: "Me and my brother Aidan have trained together and grown together our whole lives. When me and him qualified for the Olympic Games on the same day, it was the most special day of my life, but watching him win an Olympic medal brings a joy to me I’ve never felt. That’s my baby bro!"
Aidan Walsh’s mother Martine said she is “so so proud” of her son and also of her daughter Michaela.
“I am so so proud, I am over the moon.. I cant believe it ” she said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.
“Aidan and Michaela are training all the time, they do everything together and all the hard work has paid off for Aidan, it is disappointing now for Michaela.”
Ms Walsh said she was “so so nervous” watching the fight this morning as “you think they’re winning, but you have to wait for the judges.”
The Belfast boxer’s mother added that she was speaking to her Olympic medallist son just “for a wee bit” and they will talk more later when he’s settled.
“He’s on cloud nine, he’s over the moon,” Ms Walsh said. “He said to me ‘That medals for me and Michaela.’
“He worked so so hard and trained constantly, every day of the week more or less they never stopped, two sessions a day... and all the work paid off.”
Aidan Walsh’s sparring partner Darryl Clarke said no one deserves the historic achievement more.
“It’s a phenomenal achievement and no one deserves it more,” he said. “Everyone in Monkstown and in the boxing club are incredibly proud of him, we are so proud to call him a club member.
“It’s amazing learning from him because he’s a naturally talented person....and it’s nice to say I’m sharing the ring with an Olympic medallist!”