Published: 14:24 | 26/6/19

Further medal glory for Irish boxers

It proved to be another good day for Team Ireland at the European Games with the boxers picking up a further four medals to take the tally to six.

Michaela Walsh has secured Team Ireland's third medal of the European Games as she progressed to the semi-finals of the 54kg division in Minsk.

The 26-year-old Belfast native defeated Germany’s Ornella Wahner, the reigning world champion, with a 4-1 split decision to guarantee at least a bronze in her weight class.

Despite facing the world champion, Walsh proved too strong and deservedly got the decision and she will be hoping to improve on the bronze when she competes in the semi-finals.

“I feel great. I felt a bit surprised when I heard ‘split [decision]‘, but obviously I’m against the current world champion. And I just dethroned her," Walsh exclaimed.

“I tried to stick with my tactics but the coaches came up with a brilliant gameplan.

“I feel I’m just getting better, fight by fight. It was amazing to get that win. I’ve had a tough draw but that’ll make winning the gold medal more worth it!

"Since she won gold at my weight, my eyes have been on her. I’ve wanted to fight her for a long time. And I actually boxed her as a Youth boxer in the semi-finals of the World Championships — she beat me by one point and she stole my dream of becoming a Youth world champion. But I wasn’t going to allow her steal my dream of becoming European Games champion.

"I’m proud but I’m not satisfied. My aim is for a gold medal. I can celebrate now but I’ll move onto the next opponent. The job’s not done yet."

There was further joy for the Irish less than an hour later when Grainne Walsh became the fourth Irish boxer to claim a medal when she defeated Elina Gustafsson in the 69kg class.

The 23-year-old secured a unanimous points victory with a stunning display against the reigning European champion.

“I swear, this is what dreams are made of, like. I’m actually a bit emotional but it’s a great achievement. I’m just delighted with myself," she said.

“I felt my technique and my speed would be enough to beat her, and thank God I tried to stick to the plan as much as I could — as always.

“But I’m just delighted. I had to bite down hard. That’s two tough fights, now, in three days. But the job’s only half-done: I’m fully focused to go the whole way.

“First, aim for the podium, then you’re aiming all the way to the top. The more fights you have, the fitter you get, the sharper you get."

World champion lightweight Kellie Harrington joined in the celebrations as she won her 60kg quarter-final to secure at least a bronze medallist.

Harrington did not have it easy against Italian Irma Testa, but the Dubliner proved too strong for her and she did enough to impress the judges, who were split 4-1 in favour of the world champion.

Having earned a bye into the last eight, Harrington was pleased to get her competition up and running and she is targeting at least a silver medal.

“The first one’s always hard and Irma is a class boxer, like — she’s very technical. Credit to Irma, you know?" Harrington said.

[It was] great. I’ve been a long time waiting. It’s been a bit head-wrecking, nerve-wracking; some of the team have had three fights and I’m only getting going.

“It felt great to be back in. I haven’t had a fight since February so I’m happy with the performance. I know now that my fitness is there, and it’ll drive me on now in my next fight.

"It’s great to be on the same team where everybody else is medalling. It’s great for Irish boxing and it’s great for Irish sport.

“It was a real twitchy fight. Kind of like cat and mouse… I don’t know who the cat was and who the mouse was! But I felt like I was landing the cleaner, heavier shots.

“Her shots were explosive but there wasn’t much force behind them whereas what I was throwing, they weren’t bombs or anything, but they were more powerful than hers, I felt.”

Kurt Walker also enjoyed a day to remember with a decisive win over Frenchman Samuel Kistohurry in his bantamweight quarter-final.

The Lisburn fighter was the unanimous choice of the judges and he admits he had to change his style in order to overcome his French opponent.

"It’s probably the first-ever time I’ve fought in that style. I just listened to the coaches, the same shots were working every time. I’m absolutely delighted to bag another medal," Walker said.

“He was too fit to keep off. He would have put me on the back foot, so I had to fight in his style which I’d never really done. Two tough fights but I’m happy, I’m improving every time. Our team is flying at the moment, so it’s brilliant.

"I’ve been racking up the medals over the last two years now, so it’s good to keep it going. I keep surprising myself!"

The European Games continue on eir sport until Sunday, 30 June. Subscribe here

Image: Inpho Photography/Soenar Chamid

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