Brendan Irvine dreaming of gold after stirring fightback
Belfast light-flyweight Brendan Irvine came from behind to upgrade his bronze medal to at least silver with a thrilling win over Dmytro Zamotayev of 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 (BST) 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 Ukraine up to 2012, beat Russia's world featherweight champion Zinaida Dobrynina.
Taylor 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.
"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."
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."
James Brown finished in 16th place overall in the semi-final of the 200m Individual Medley at the European Games in Baku.
Having swam a lifetime best in the morning heats of 2:06.55, the Ards SC swimmer was unable to match that time in the semi-final touching in 2:07.15.
The 18-year-old said: "I was delighted with this morning's swim, my aim was to go under two minutes seven seconds and I did that so I was really pleased.
"Unfortunately the race didn't come together as well this afternoon and I got one of the turns wrong. I'll go back and look at that and then move forward to my 100m Butterfly and 400m IM swims later this week."
In the badminton women's singles, Raphoe's Chloe Magee defeated Belgium's Lianne Tan 2-1.