Spar wars no bother as Kristina O'Hara does the business when it matters to secure first boxing medal
A TOUGH spar in Canberra may have given Lynsey Holdaway the psychological edge before yesterday’s showdown with Kristina O’Hara, but it mattered for nothing when the west Belfast woman’s hand was raised to secure Northern Ireland’s first boxing medal.
The Welsh veteran barely takes a backward step and, when the pair shared the ring at the Australian Institute of Sport a fortnight ago, O’Hara admitted Holdaway “roughed me up big time”.
That experience, though, was banked and worked upon to come up with the perfect game-plan to make sure of a bronze medal at the very least.
The Australian judge gave O'Hara all three rounds but the US judge felt Holdaway won every round. Crucially for the 22-year-old, though, two of the other three judges gave her a 29-28 verdict as she booked a semi-final date with New Zealand’s Tasmyn Benny on Wednesday.
“I feel amazing – it was a very, very tough fight,” said the St John Bosco boxer.
“I sparred her two weeks ago in the training camp and she was very aggressive, very dirty and nasty. She tried every trick in the book and, because of that spar, I think she underestimated me going into this one, thinking she was going to dominate me.
“But I kept my distance, I found my range. I won the first round no problem, the second was a bit closer but then I won the third handy.
“I’m the first one of the Northern Ireland boxers to secure a medal out here so that’s history in the making.”
Despite the aggressive nature of that spar, O’Hara came away happy that she had seen all Holdaway had to offer – and so it proved.
“At the time I was thinking ‘this is what she’s done in the spar she’s not going to bring anything else to the table. This is all she has’,” said O’Hara.
“After that, everybody gets to the stage where they start to doubt a wee bit, and I was thinking she’s really rough, she roughed me up big time and that sort of made me cautious. But caution is good. It made me aware.
“In that spar I was looking for things myself, and the coaches were well tuned in about what was going on. We had a meeting after and came up to a game-plan, which we stuck to.”
Kiwi Benny, a taller opponent than pocket rocket Holdaway, will present a difference challenge altogether – and she had also been due to face O’Hara in a test match, only for the Belfast woman to fall ill.
She added: “I was supposed to spar her at the training camp but I got food poisoning on the last day of the spars… I did a bit of tic-tac with her, a bit of technical stuff.
“I’d say she’s about the same height as me, there wouldn’t be much in it, but I didn’t get to watch her fight because I was in with the doctor at the time.
“We’ll look at her in the next couple of days, I’m just happy now - but I’ll be a lot happier this time next week if I win the gold.”
IRVINE READY TO ENTER THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES FRAY
RIO Olympian Brendan Irvine makes his long-awaited Commonwealth Games bow this morning when he meets Jabali Breedy from the Barbados.
Irvine hasn’t fought since his Ulster final win over Conor Quinn last November, and a niggly hand injury meant he had to slowly build back into sparring as the Gold Coast training camp progressed.
Breedy is a potentially awkward opponent for the west Belfast flyweight, having qualified for last year’s World Championships in Hamburg, losing in the first round to eventual bronze medallist Tamir Galanov from Russia.
The winner will meet Botswana’s Rajab Mahommed in the last eight on Wednesday morning.
St George’s stylist James McGivern is the only other Irish boxer in action today, taking on Thadius Katua from Papua New Guinea in the early hours, though there are plenty gearing up for a potentially huge Tuesday Down Under.
There are five fighters all in the mix for medals tomorrow, with two out in the very early hours – 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Michaela Walsh and heavyweight hope Damien Sullivan.
Walsh, whose younger brother Aidan is out later in the day, enters the fray against Botswana’s 21-year-old Keamogetse Kenosi (3.15am approx).
Having won the European Union gold medal last summer, and with the experience of Glasgow in the bank, Walsh is a huge contender in Australia and will hope to get the ball rolling on a memorable day for Team NI.
Sullivan, meanwhile, opens up against home favourite Jason Whately, with their fight scheduled for around 6.15am tomorrow morning.
It isn’t the easiest draw for the big Emerald man, as 6”4 Whately qualified for the Rio Olympics after winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Asia/Oceania Olympic qualification tournament in China.
He is a qualified personal trainer who runs his own gym ‘Pure Boxing’ where he works alongside elite swimmers and members of the AFL club Hawthorn - home of former Derry minor star Conor Glass.
COMMONWEALTH GAMES BOXING SCHEDULE
60kg last 16: James McGivern v Thadius Katua (Papua New Guinea) (5am approx)
52kg last 16: Brendan Irvine v Jabali Breedy (Barbados) (10.30am approx)
57kg quarter-final: Michaela Walsh v Keamogetse Kenosi (Botswana) (3.15am approx)
91kg quarter-final: Damien Sullivan v Jason Whately (Australia) (6.15am approx)
56kg quarter-final: Kurt Walker v Moroke Mokhotho (Lesotho) (9.30am approx)
69kg quarter-final: Aidan Walsh v Leroy Hindley (New Zealand) (10.45am approx)
91+kg quarter-final: Stephen McMonagle v Patrick Mailata (New Zealand) (12.15pm approx)