Seconds Out: Kurt Walker and Michaela Walsh move into European Games quarter-finals
KURT Walker and Michaela Walsh joined team-mates Regan Buckley, Michael Nevin and Kellie Harrington in the last eight of the European Games after hard fought victories in Minsk yesterday.
Walker, seeded fourth in the bantamweight division, claimed a 4-1 split decision against Zhirayr Saeqsyan to get his campaign up and running, burying memories of his early exit at the hands of eventual gold medallist Bakhtovar Nazirov four years ago.
Saeqsyan had already come through an early fight against Romania’s Robert-Eusebiu Jitaru last Friday, and Walker admitted the tough Armenian had brought a bigger challenge than anticipated.
“Credit to him, he was very good, better than I expected - very fit and very tough,” said the Canal counter-puncher.
“I was throwing to the body, not as much as I should have, but that was the difference’ the straight shots. He wasn’t giving up but my preparation was brilliant and it stuck by me there.
“It was his second fight, he was warmed up where I felt a bit rusty, but it’ll stick by me in the quarter-final.”
The 23-year-old will meet Samuel Kistohurry tomorrow as he bids to secure at least a bronze medal, after the Frenchman shocked Italian fifth seed Raffaele di Serio in the last 16.
Should Walker progress, he could be on a semi-final collision course with rival Peter McGrail after the Scouser easily saw off Belgium’s Vasile Usturoi to set up a last eight showdown with Albanian Krener Zeneli tomorrow.
McGrail defeated Walker in the Commonwealth Games final 14 months ago, only for the Lisburn man to take revenge in the European Union Championships decider back in November.
Two-time Commonwealth Games silver medallist Michaela Walsh also advanced courtesy of a 4-1 split, getting the better of Lenuta-Lacramioara Perijoc.
It was the Monkstown feather’s third straight victory over the Romanian, and she advances to a meeting with reigning world champion Ornella Wahner.
The pair last met at the 2011 World Junior and Youth Championships in Turkey, with the German getting the nod, 18-17. Walsh will be hoping to settle the score tomorrow.
Welterweight hope Grainne Walsh followed the Belfast woman’s lead when she saw off Team GB’s Rosie Eccles to set up a meeting with Russian number three seed Iaroslava Iakushina tomorrow.
Unfortunately for Dean Gardiner, though, his journey came to an end as he slipped to a split decision defeat against Mikheil Bakhtidze.
The Tipperary super-heavy took the first round of an engrossing contest but the Georgian won rounds two and three on four and five of the cards to move into the quarter-finals.
Belfast’s James McGivern leads the Irish charge today, meanwhile, when he goes in search of a 64kg quarter-final spot against Hovhannes Bachkov.
Considering the Armenian is the number one seed at light-welter, it looks a huge task for the St George’s stylist – especially considering he is still growing into his new weight class having moved up from lightweight.
However, McGivern impressed in his opening win over Slovakia’s Michael Takacs on Sunday, and will fancy himself to pull off a shock when he steps between the ropes this afternoon.
“The first one’s always nervy to get into the competition, get into the ring and see what the arena’s like,” said the 22-year-old.
“I just have to keep on going, fight by fight, round by round and get to the final.”
Also in last 16 action today is middleweight Aoife O’Rourke when she takes on Viktoryia Kebikava (Belarus), with Buckley and Nevin going in search of medals later in the day.
Light-fly Buckley, who had two fights as a professional before returning to the amateur ranks last year, aims to build on his impressive unanimous win over Russia’s Bator Sagaluev when he faces Spaniard Martin Molina.
Portlaoise middle Nevin has already come through two tough tests against Mark Dickinson (Team GB) and Kamran Shakhsuvarly (Azerbaijan) to reach the quarter-final, and should be too slick for Turkey’s Guler Serhat.
World lightweight champion Kellie Harrington makes her bow in Minsk tomorrow against Italy’s Irma Testa at the last eight stage.
ULSTER AMONG THE MEDALS AT BLACK FOREST CUP
A CLASSY Ulster team returned home from the weekend’s Black Forest Cup in Germany with a huge medal haul.
Shane O’Gorman (St Malachy’s), Oisin Treanor (Emyvale), Craig Bigger (Cookstown) and Tiernan O’Neill (St Paul’s) all mined gold, with Diarmuid Bradley (Holy Trinity), Ronan Mongan (Gilford), Marty McCullough (Gleann), Oisin Mulholland (East Down), Thomas Orr (Lisburn) and Jamie Grey landing silver.
There were also bronze medals for Jack McGivern (St George’s), Bailey Marshall (Emerald) and Bryce Collins (East Down).
Nineteen of the north’s top talents travelled to Stuttgart, the biggest team the Ulster High Performance unit has ever sent to the Black Forest Cup, and they will all have gained huge experience from competing at such a prestigious tournament.
Meanwhile, a strong County Antrim team flies to Ioannia tomorrow to compete in the Tiger Box Cup, which also features selects from host nation Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, Cyprus and Albania.
Reigning Ulster elite champion John Paul Hale (Star) leads the way on a five-man team that also includes club-mate Lee McKee, Jack McGivern, Ormeau Road middleweight Ali Ahmed and Holy Trinity’s European junior bronze medallist Jon McConnell.
Jim McGivern (St George’s) and Star’s Barry McMahon are the travelling coaches, with Clonard’s Michael O’Neill referee and judge.