Kurt Walker and Michaela Walsh box clever to edge closer to European Games gold
KURT Walker and Michaela Walsh delivered classy performances to book their place in European Games finals yesterday - with gold medals firmly on the pair's radar.
Monkstown feather Walsh got the ball rolling for the Irish team when she edged out Russia's Daria Abramova to book her place in the 57kg decider, and Walker followed suit last night by defeating English rival Peter McGrail.
'The Scouse Lomachenko' beat Walker to Commonwealth Games gold 14 months ago, but the Lisburn bantamweight has got the better of him twice since - in the final of the European Union Championships last November and in Minsk yesterday at the semi-final stage.
And Walker, who will face Ukraine's Mykola Butsenko in tomorrow's 56kg final, was quick to pay tribute to Irish coaches Zaur Antia, John Conlan and Dmitry Dimitruk after having his hand raised.
"It was so tough," said the 23-year-old, who fell at the first hurdle in Baku four years ago.
"He's so good technically; I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the coaches telling me the game-plan, honestly. I've just tried to perfect it as best as I can - I wasn't doing some things right that I should've been doing, but I got the decision and I'm delighted.
"I just had to stay a bit low, don't go in on my toes like I usually do and get caught with stupid shots. It's a credit to the coaches, they've had a harder week than I have; they've been flat out for the last 10 days - out at 12, back home at 12 at night.
"It's unbelievable. Four years ago I was put out in the first fight, now I'm in the final. Hard work really does pay off."
Walsh, meanwhile, admitted she is living the dream after moving another step closer to the gold medal she has had in her sights since touching down in Belarus.
Abramova got the better of Walsh at last year’s European Championships, but the Belfast woman boxed clever in a close, cagey encounter to ensure there was no repeat this time around, taking a 3-2 split.
“I feel amazing, it’s great to get the win,” said the two-time Commonwealth Games silver medallist, who meets Bulgaria’s Stanimira Petrova in this afternoon's decider.
“Going in we had the perfect game-plan, I tried my best to stick to it, but when you’re fighting such good opposition it can go either way. I feel I performed really well but the job’s not done.
“This is what dreams are made of. People think it’s just one week, two weeks... this is months, years of training. Since I started boxing and started being successful, every tournament I go to, the aim is the Olympic Games.
“It's all about taking steps towards Tokyo. I believe it's my destiny - it's what I was born for."
Reigning world lightweight champion Kellie Harrington also took care of business against Sweden’s Agnes Alexiusson to set up an intriguing meeting with Mira Potkonen - the experienced Finn who shattered Katie Taylor's dreams in Rio three years ago.
There was disappointment for Regan Buckley and Michael Nevin, who will return home with well-earned bronze medals after bowing out at the last four stage last night.
The Bray light-fly was shaded on a 3-2 split by Armenia's Artur Hovannisyan, before middleweight Nevin was stopped in the first round of his clash with Salvatore Cavallaro.
Cavallaro was aggressive from the off and caught Nevin high on the head with the inside of his forearm, followed by a left hook, which left the Portlaoise man on the canvas.
In the earlier session, welterweight Grainne Walsh also had to settle for bronze after being edged on a 3-2 split to Poland's Karolina Koszewska.
Featherweight (2pm): Michaela Walsh v Petrova Stanimira (Bul)
Lightweight (10am): Kellie Harrington v Mira Potkonen (Fin)
Bantamweight (11.30am): Kurt Walker v Mykola Butsenko (Ukr)