Irish boxers gear up for potential Super Sunday at Tokyo Olympics
IT could be a super Sunday for boxers Aidan Walsh and Kurt Walker in Tokyo with both in action in semi-final and quarter-final bouts respectively.
Walsh will aim to turn bronze into silver when he faces a familiar foe in Britain's Pat McCormack in the welterweight semi-final (4am Irish time) having already etched his name into the history books thanks to an impressive 4-1 win over Merven Clair of Mauritius on Friday morning.
The Monkstown ABC fighter produced a classy display against the southpaw, boxing off the back foot, countering brilliantly and using his movement to leave Clair chasing shadows.
"I don't even know what to say - it's crazy with he amount of training I've put in and sacrifices: my coaches, club coaches, girlfriend and everybody - it's amazing," Walsh told RTE after.
"I've had so much support and I'm just so grateful - I can't believe it.
It was a cagey opener with Walsh happy to sit back and draw his southpaw opponent inside, using his height and reach to score with the right. Clair was quick, but Walsh quicker, playing the matador to sweep the first round and earn the nod from three of the five judges to leave himself in pole position heading into the final round where he was able to coast home.
Next up is McCormack who he lost to in Paris last month, but there will be no inferiority complex as Walsh is riding the crest of a wave having joined an exclusive band of Irish Olympic medalists.
"He faces Ireland's Aidan Walsh - that's the way I'm looking at it," Walsh insists.
"It's going in there with the belief you can beat anybody with the right tactics from the coaches, implementing what they say and believing in myself. I'm so grateful to be here, so I just want to push on now."
It will be a slightly earlier start for Walker on Sunday morning (3.30am Irish time), with the Lisburn featherweight bidding to join Walsh on the podium when he takes on USA's Duke Ragan.
The fascinating sub-plot to this featherweight quarter-final is that Billy Walsh, former Ireland head coach, will be aiming to plot the downfall of an Irish fighter in a major tournament for the first time since making the switch to the United States in 2015.
It will be a battle of wits between Walsh and his former right-hand man Zaur Antia as to who will get the tactics right, but it ultimately comes down to the men in the ring and Walker will enter the bout in flying form having shocked world champion and number one seed Mirazizbek Mitzakhalilov on Wednesday.
The Canal ABC fighter finished that bout with a cut over both eyes, but has had time to heal ahead of the meeting with Ragan who has already boxed four times as a professional and has looked equally impressive in his run to this last eight clash.
The Cincinnati man is quick and slick with an excellent skillset, so will be a tough nut to crack, but the opposite can also be said with Walker firmly into his groove and should he produce another performance like his last 16 win, then Ireland could well have another medal on the board.
Dublin's Kellie Harrington is also one win away from the podium thanks to a hugely impressive unanimous decision victory over Italy's Rebecca Nicoli in the women's lightweight round of 16 earlier on Friday morning.
Harrington, the number one seed, wasted little time in getting into her flow and consistently beat the Italian to the punch, moving and boxing beautifully throughout to cruise into Tuesday's quarter-final (4.30am) against Algeria's Imane Khelif.
"The first one is always the hardest," she said.
"I haven't even thought of that (winning a medal on Tuesday). Roll onto Tuesday and I'm just fighting for myself and my own honour, so what will be will be.
"If I get a medal, that would be great, but if I don't I'll give it everything. As long as I step out of the ring knowing I've left everything in there, I'll be happy."