European pain for Irvine and Walker but Ward delighted
Joe Ward is on course for his third European title but Antrim's Brendan Irvine and Kurt Walker will have to settle for bronze after losing their semi-finals in Kharkiv, Ukraine, yesterday.
Ward, the defending champion and No.1 seed in the light-heavy class, beat Italy's Valentino Manfredonia on a comprehensive unanimous decision.
The Westmeath southpaw was always in control against the Brazil-born Azzurri orthodox, who suffered a leg injury in the first round that left him limping for the rest of the fight. The incident occurred after Ward got the better of a massive exchange near the end of the first stanza.
A cut opened near Manfredonia's right eye, and he appeared to be crying in his corner as his seconds applied an ice pack to his injured knee. The Italian, however, bravely fought on.
Ward will now meet Russia's Muslim Gadzhimagomedov, who beat Croatia's Damir Plantic, in today's final, looking to become the first Irish male boxer to claim three European titles. Katie Taylor won six in her amateur career.
Facing a Russian in a major final is unlikely to faze the Irish champion as he beat Nikita Ivanov in the 2011 decider when he was only 17 to become one of the youngest boxers to win European gold.
"The plan all along has been to win the gold medal. That's what I'm out here for. Gold is always my target," said Ward.
Meanwhile, Irvine, the No.4 seed in the flyweight class, dropped a unanimous decision to Dean Farrell, the English orthodox impressing.
Irvine detonated the heavier punches in the opening two rounds, but Farrell, whilst missing with the first two shots of his three-punch combinations, consistently found the target with the third.
Walker lost to Mykola Butsenko, who was beaten by John Joe Nevin in the 2013 European final. The Ukrainian was awarded a 30-27 decision across the board - a generous verdict given that Walker worked hard.
Meanwhile, England will have a total of seven fighters in today's finals. Along with Farrell, Peter McGrail, Luke McCormack, Cheavon Clarke, Pat McCormack, Frazer Clarke and Galal Yafai all won their semi-finals.
By reaching the semi-finals, the eight Englishmen had guaranteed European medals, the nation's best ever total.
Rio Olympian Yafai (light-flyweight) was the first to progress to the final, beating Spain's Samuel Carmona Heredia by split decision. He will now face defending champion Vasilii Egorov of Russia for gold.
McGrail dominated Spain's Jose Quiles Brotons in a points win at bantamweight before Luke McCormack scored a narrow points win over London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Evaldas Petrauskas in the light-welterweight category.
Rookie heavyweight Clarke then outpointed Dutch third seed Roy Korving to finish off the morning session. He will have to beat Olympic champion Evgeny Tishchenko of Russia to claim gold.
Luke McCormack's twin brother Pat beat Ievgenii Barabanov at welterweight. Super-heavyweight Clarke finished an impressive day for English boxing with a split-decision victory over France's Djamili Aboudou-Moindze in his first international tournament.