I couldn't miss Aidan and Michaela's gold medal mission says coach Paul Johnston
IT was a regret from eight years ago that prompted Paul Johnston to finally bite the bullet. In 2010, his fighter Steven Ward came from nowhere to win silver in Delhi and Johnston wasn’t there to see it.
The decision not to travel has nagged at him ever since, and the Monkstown coach was determined not to make the same mistake this time around.
Having thought about it for weeks, Johnston finally bought flights before boarding a plane to Brisbane on Monday, such was his confidence that siblings Aidan and Michaela Walsh would make it to the last day of the Commonwealth Games.
He was in the air when both won their quarter-finals on Tuesday, and was sat beside their dad Damien at Oxenford Studios yesterday as they moved a step closer to fulfilling their pre-Games prophecy of ‘gold medals only’.
“Steven Ward, one of my boxers, got to Delhi, into the final and I didn’t go. I kind of regretted it – I didn’t want that to happen ever again,” he said.
“I’m delighted I did because that was amazing in there. I always believed they were going to do it, they got their tactics perfect and now they have to go the whole way.
“I’m very confident that both of them can go on and take the gold. Michaela’s a world class operator, it’s going to take an exceptional performance from somebody to beat her in the form she’s in.
“It would be special for them and their family - their dad whose here and their mum Martine at home. There’s a big Irish support here too and we’re all really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Michaela was between the ropes first, renewing a rivalry with New Zealand’s Alexis Pritchard that had grown legs during the training camp in Canberra.
The tall Kiwi revealed that some of their spars had ended up more like wrestling matches, and yesterday’s showdown wasn’t much different, with a host of unseemly tangles.
But it was Walsh who produced the clean, eye-catching shots as she stalked her opponent from first bell until last, with the judges somehow arriving at a split decision despite the one-sided nature of the fight.
“It was scrappy, she’s so tall, every time you get in with her she’s holding. It was the same when we sparred each other, it was like a wrestling match,” said the 2014 silver medallist.
“It was her making it like that because I don’t box like that and she does.”
Standing between Walsh and the gold medal she so craves is home favourite Skye Nicolson, whose slick movement and crisp counter-punches saw her ease past Canada’s Sabrina Aubin-Boucher.
And while Walsh has no shortage of motivation after her final disappointment against Nicola Adams four years ago, Nicolson is being driven by a remarkable, yet tragic, family history.
The 22-year-old Aussie is has already emulated the brother she never met by medaling at these Games, and now she is determined to go all the way.
Jamie Nicolson became the first Australian male to win a World Championship medal when he took bronze in Moscow in 1989, and repeated the trick at the Commonwealth Games the following year before representing his country at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
However, Jamie was just 22 when he and younger brother Gavin (10) died in a 1994 car accident on their way to boxing training, a year before Skye was born.
But she believes her elder sibling is in her corner 24 years on.
“This moment was for both of us,” said Nicolson, who sparred Michaela Walsh in Canberra last month.
“I’m so happy and proud that I’m doing this for him too. Definitely it’s been more pressure. I’ve been extremely nervous for this tournament, a lot more nervous than usual.
“Having my whole family and friends here to support me, it’s definitely had that added pressure. I’m just so glad I’m getting through and putting on a good showcase.”
Aidan Walsh, meanwhile, barely broke a sweat as he coasted past Winston Hill.
The Fijian, a 2016 Olympian, looked strong in seeing off Scotland’s Stephen Newns on Tuesday but appeared flat-footed yesterday.
No matter what he tried, he had no answer to the tall Walsh’s stick and move style, with the 21-year-old using his ramrod jab to superb effect as the heart gradually went out of his opponent.
“That was the game-plan,” said Johnston, “just keep it on the end of the jab, box and move. I don’t think he even got into third gear. He made the fight easy for himself.”
Walsh faces hard-hitting English welter Pat McCormack in this morning’s final, and Johnston insists the pressure is off his fighter going into the decider.
“He’s the favourite, he’s in the top six in the world. There’s no pressure on Aidan, we’ve just told him to go out and enjoy it like he did today.
“Aidan’s in the right frame of mind.”
FINALS RUNNING ORDER
48kg final: Kristina O’Hara v Mary Kom (India) (3am)
51kg final: Carly McNaul v Lisa Whiteside (Eng) (3.15am approx)
52kg final: Brendan Irvine v Gaurav Solanki (4am approx)
57kg final: Michaela Walsh v Skye Nicolson (Aus) (9.30am approx)
56kg final: Kurt Walker v Peter McGrail (Eng) (10.15am approx)
69kg final: Aidan Walsh v Pat McCormack (Eng) (10.30am approx)
McNAUL PRAISES COACHES FOR ROLE IN ROAD TO COMMONWEALTH FINAL
CARLY McNaul paid tribute to the Team NI coaches after another steam-rolling performance saw the Ormeau Road fighter bludgeon her way into the flyweight final.
The 28-year-old was too strong for Kenya’s Christine Ongare, her all-action style giving her a unanimous victory to set up a gold medal bout with England’s Lisa Whiteside.
“She came out and I just had to the pressure on her,” said McNaul.
“She was a tough wee woman, unlucky to her. I’m happy with my performance and on to the next one.
“I gave up my job and everything to be here… I couldn't do it without my parents who are at home looking after my boy. This is for you son.”
And McNaul praised the part played by head coach John Conlan, as well as Damien Kennedy and Pete Brady in the corner.
She added: “He’s amazing - I wouldn’t be here without him, Damien and wee Pete.
“All the coaches are world class and I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me, and big Charlie [Toland] at home as well.
“I’ve had brilliant support from all the team, I can’t thank them enough. I’m bringing home the gold, I’m not stopping here.”
Whiteside, however, has other ideas after beating home favourite Taylah Robertson in the other semi-final.
"I was on their home turf and still got the decision,” said the 32-year-old.
“I'm in the final and it means the world. I know at home my mum will be crying her eyes out. No-one is taking gold off me."
Also going for gold today is west Belfast’s Kristina O’Hara, who faces Indian legend Mary Kom in the light-flyweight final.
O’Hara has been one of the shining lights for Team NI in the Gold Coast, and it would be a huge achievement if she could topple Kom in what might be the 35-year-old’s farewell appearance.