European Championships – REVIEW

A successful week-and-a-half in the small Bulgarian town of Samokov has seen Ireland return back to Dublin with two gold medals and a bronze. At the 41st European Elite Boxing Championships, Team Ireland finished second behind only Russia in the medals table and also qualified four of the seven-strong team for the upcoming World Championships in Qatar – where they will join the three Irishmen who have already qualified via the European Games.

After the wins in Samokov, the High-Performance-inspired Irish have now medaled in a staggering SIXTEEN consecutive international tournaments since 2008 (20 Gold, 18 Silver, 21 Bronze). With the dust settling on yet another medal-laden tournament, irish-boxing.com is here to give you a recap of how the lads got on in Bulgaria.

Team Ireland’s tournament got off to a rocky start with Myles Casey failing to make the 52kg flyweight limit. The Limerick southpaw will be hugely disappointed at this miscalculation and the missed opportunity to go to the World Championships. Indeed, the St. Francis’s BC man would have had to finish in the Top 6 of a field of just 14 to qualify for Qatar. This is a goal that the 21 year old would have been very confident of achieving after his impressive showing at the inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan.

Belfast bantamweight (56kg), Michael Conlan, had disrupted preparations leading in to the tournament, and the Clonard ABC man admits that he wasn’t at his best. However, such is the world class skill that he possesses, a below-par Conlan still won gold and the Best Boxer award at the tournament. The number one seed comfortably won his four bouts, gradually improving and culminating with a win in the final over English rival, Qais Asfaq. Bulgaria will have been perfect preparation for Conlan who will now aim to become Ireland’s first male gold medal winner at the World Championships this October.

At 64kg, Enniscorthy light welterweight Dean Walsh won a brilliant bronze and was unlucky not to upgrade to at least a silver. The 21 year old is probably the most improved boxer on the team and guaranteed bronze with a mature outboxing of Hungary’s Georgian Nyeki. In his semi final with eventual gold medal winner, Vitaly Dunaytsev of Russia, Walsh went to war in what was one of the fights of the tournament. After an engrossing battle, Walsh – who lost to Dunaytsev last year – was pipped by the narrowest of margins.

Wexford welterweight (69kg) Adam Nolan gave two of Ireland’s best performances at the tournament – however the Garda, yet again, agonisingly missed out on a first major international medal. In successive bouts, Nolan beat two boxers who had already qualified for the Rio Olympics – APB World Champion, Onder Şipal of Turkey, and the WSB #2 ranked boxer, Russia’s Radzhab Butaev . However the mammoth performances put in by Nolan in these two bouts just took too much out of him and he narrowly lost in the quarter finals to Pavel Kastramin of Belarus who would go on to win silver. A small consolation for Nolan will be his Top 6 finish in Bulgaria which has secured him qualification for the World Championships.

Big Joe Ward lined out at light heavyweight (81kg) after a stint with AIBA Professional Boxing. While Ward did not secure Olympic qualification through this avenue, it certainly seems to have improved him as a fighter. Looking fitter and stronger, Ward was adept at both bullying opponents and dancing past punches like a lightweight. The Moate man decimated his five opponents en-route to gold – with the highlights being a first round shellacking of Russia’s Idris Shakhmanov and his comfortable win in the final over Dutch fighter, Peter Mullenberg, who won silver at the 2013 Europeans.

At heavyweight (91kg) and super heavyweight (+91kg), Ireland’s 68 year wait for a major international medal continues. Although bad luck had a large impact here. Having finished 6th and 7th respectively at the European Games, Darren O’Neill and Dean Gardiner would have been confident of qualifying for the World Championship and perhaps even winning a medal in Bulgaria – especially with the somewhat thinner field of competition that participated in Samokov. It was not to be though as both Kilkenny heavy, O’Neill, and Tipperary super heavy, Gardiner were drawn to face the number one seeds in their second round bouts. O’Neill was especially unlucky, losing a tight decision to Evgeny Tishchenko of Russia – a 2013 World Championships silver medalist.

Attentions will now turn to the 18th edition of the World Championships, the first AIBA Open Boxing Olympic qualifier, which is scheduled to be held in Doha, Qatar from October 5th to 18th. This will be the first time that the tournament, already described as being harder than the Olympics, requires qualification – and Ireland will be sending a seven strong team:

49kg: Brendan Irvine
56kg: Michael Conlan
60kg: Sean McComb
64kg: Dean Walsh
69kg: Adam Nolan
75kg: Michael O’Reilly
81kg: Joe Ward

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie