Conlon and Ward make it double gold
Glory for Irish duo in Bulgarian showpiece
Michael Conlan and Joe Ward struck double gold at the European Elite Championships in Bulgaria on Saturday to crown another glorious day for Irish boxing.
Conlan beat England's Qais Ashfaq on a unanimous decision, and was later named boxer of the tournament.
Ward, the 2011 champion when he was aged just 17, became the first Irish male boxer to win two European Elite golds after beating Dutch light-heavy, Peter Mullenburg.
Conlan, boxing orthodox, found the target with the majority of the cleaner shots to take the crucial first round 10-9 across the board against the Leeds southpaw.
The second frame was even closer, with Ashfaq countering well. However, the Belfast bantam switched to southpaw in the third to bewilder his opponent even further en route to a 30-27, 29-28, 30-27 verdict.
"I told everyone I don't lose, so I had to stick to that. He definitely brings out the best in me. It wasn't my best performance, but it was my best performance here this week," said Conlan.
"I came here for the gold, I always do. That is always my target and I'm over the moon to have achieved it. It's a good feeling."
Ward, who is contracted with AIBA Pro Boxing, outclassed Mullenburg, a World Series of Boxing fighter, to create his own piece of Irish boxing history.
Boxing comfortably behind his jab, the Moate southpaw controlled the centre of the ring and rocked the Dutch orthodox with body shots and uppercuts to secure the first two rounds on his way to a 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 victory.
"He was dangerous, I had to keep my concentration against him. Absolutely delighted to have won a second gold medal," said the AIBA World Elite bronze medallist.
Irish boxing has now won 12 gold medals at the European Elites since the inaugural tournament in 1925. Seven of that total were claimed in the last five years.
It also marked the third occasion since 2011 that our boxers have won double gold on the same day at this level.
Next stop for the all conquering Irish team will be the world championships in Doha in October.
Seven Irish boxers have qualfied for Doha at which qualification places for the Olympics are up for grabs. Conlan and Paddy Barnes have already qualified for the Rio Games.
But Ward in particular will be looking to finally fulfil his ambitions and qualify for an Olympic Games before his likely exit to the professional ranks.
However, in the majority of weight divisions only the finalists in Doha will earn automatic qualification for Rio and the only Irish boxer to ever reach a World championship final Jason Quigley - who won silver in 2013 - is now boxing professionally in the US.