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Golden girl: Aoife O’Rourke is European champion again!

The wait seemed like forever as Aoife O’Rourke awaited her fate.

The Aleksandar Nikolić Hall in Belgrade fell into a nervous silence as the women’s middleweight final went to a bout review.

O’Rourke and Anastasiia Shamonova from Russia stood in centre-ring, each shuffling with a fairly potent cocktail of nerves and fear. Their demeanour was almost akin to two admonished schoolgirls awaiting sanction or reprieve.

And then it arrived: Confirmation that O’Rourke is now a European champion again. The crucial spadework here was done in an excellent opening round. Those three minutes of work paved the way for the Connacht woman.

Including last year’s European Games, it is the Roscommon middleweight’s fourth time to conquer the continent and came just a few hours after Shannon Sweeney blasted her way to light-flyweight gold.

It is her third European Championships gold, the same as Joe Ward. Only Katie Taylor, with six, has won more.

O’Rourke is a woman on form and this was her 23rd win on the trot.

The Irish fighter began with neat work to body and head. One cracking right hand landed perhaps not with the venom O’Rourke unloaded with, but enough to shake the Russian.

All five judges gave O’Rourke their nod in the first round.

Shamonova was spoken to several times by a referee who was growing in frustration. A series of blows by Shamonova hit their target. A big right by O’Rourke as the clock ticked helped get her 20-18 ahead on two cards.

With the other three level, the contest, the gold and the $15,000 jackpot were perilously poised as the fighters rose for their final three minutes.

Shamonova came out like the hammers for the third and was the aggressor in the early phase of the stanza. O’Rourke, though, bit down and hit back.

Shamonova twice visited the blue corner to have her hair fixed in the third round, but it’s O’Rourke who will let her hair down as the gold medallist.

Earlier in the tournament, O’Rourke overcame Veronika Nakota and Isildar Busra.

The Castlerea woman previously defeated Shamonova in a 2019 European semi-final and a 2022 Strandja semi.

The 2019 and 2022 European champ, O’Rourke – eventually – had her hand raised. The bout review was triggered by a 3-2 split among the judges. O’Rourke climbed to the top step on the podium with the review 5-2 in her favour.

O’Rourke sealed her Olympic Games spot via European Games gold last summer.

As the queen of the continent now in her weight, making the Olympic inroads will come sharply into focus.