Kurt Walker and Michaela Walsh look ahead to Olympic qualifiers after Strandja exit

Kurt Walker missed out on a semi-final place in Sofia after coming out on the wrong side of a 4-1 split decision to Ukraine's Mykola Butsenko. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

THERE was double disappointment at the Strandja Multi-Nations Tournament in Bulgaria yesterday as Ulster trio Kurt Walker, Michaela Walsh and Ceire Smith all bowed out at the quarter-final stage.

Walker shook his head in disgust after coming out on the wrong side of a 4-1 split decision against familiar foe Mykola Butsenko in their featherweight showdown.

The Canal counter-puncher dominated the aggressive Ukrainian en route to claiming European Games gold in Minsk last June, and produced a similarly controlled performance in all three round yesterday – only for Butsenko to have his hand raised.

Walsh, meanwhile, exited the competition after a nip and tuck battle with Sonia Lather, the Indian fighter getting the nod, 3-2, from the judges.

Cavan slickster Smith bowed out against Virginia Fuchs of the USA, the Texan puncher sweeping to a unanimous decision win.

However Smith, who hopes to have earned a crack at the European Olympic qualifier in March after clocking up two wins in Sofia, was taking the positives in defeat.

“She was sharp and very cute. It was a good contest,” said Smith.

“My tactics from Zaur [Antia, Irish head coach] were perfect but I certainly need to implement them better. I’ll be going home with specifics to work and improve on.

“This has been a great tournament with three good contests under my belt which I will be building on in the busy year ahead.”

There was better news else yesterday though as Dublin’s Kellie Harrington and Roscommon’s Aoife O’Rourke both guaranteed themselves at least bronze.

2018 World Elite champion Harrington, in just her second fight back since injuring her hand at the European Games last June, was to sharp and too smart as she earned a unanimous decision win over Ukrainian lightweight Hanna Okheri.

She goes on to face home favourite Denicia Eliseeva in today’s semi-final, and should have too much class for the experienced Bulgarian.

O’Rourke remains on the crest of a wave too, carrying the confidence gained from last year’s European gold medal into 2020 and clocking up another impressive performance to see off Brazilian middleweight Flavia Figuerdo.

The Roscommon woman is back between the ropes today too when she goes up against USA’s Naomi Graham.

In the afternoon session, light-welter George Bates had to settle for a top-eight finish after losing to India’s Shiva Thapa.

It was looking good for the Dubliner too after he floored Thapa with a sweet left hook in the second round of a fiery 63kg battle, but the judges still came down on the side of his opponent.

There was frustration for Cork welterweight Christina Desmond, who was forced to withdraw for her quarter-final against Oshae Jones of the USA after picking up a slight hand injury in her win over Beatriz Soares of Brazil on Tuesday.

In a couple of weeks time another Irish squad, including Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine, will have their chance to impress ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.

Irvine is joined by flyweight rival Jude Gallagher, middleweight Gabriel Dossen and Tipperary super-heavy Dean Gardiner on a four-strong Irish squad bound for the Elite Bocskai Men’s Memorial, which begins in Debrecen on February 3.

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