Michaela Walsh to step up Paris preparations with crack at European Championships

Double Olympian part of 11-strong Irish team bound for Belgrade

Michaela Walsh celebrates after securing her spot at a second consecutive Olympic Games. Picture by Sportsfiles (David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

DOUBLE Olympian Michaela Walsh steps up her preparations for this summer’s Paris games as she looks ahead to the start of the European Championships in Serbia later this week.

The west Belfast woman, who secured her place at a second Olympic Games when reaching the qualifying quota at the European Games in Poland last July, will be hoping to get some competitive rounds under her belt with the Paris Olympics just over three months away.

Walsh’s last outing was at the Strandja tournament in early February, where she fell at the first hurdle against Tajikistan’s Mijgona Samadova.

The 30-year-old is part of an 11-strong Irish squad competing in Belgrade, where the draw will be made on Thursday, with the finals taking place on Sunday, April 28. She joins Tokyo gold medallist Kellie Harrington, fellow double Olympian Aoife O’Rourke, 2022 World champion Lisa O’Rourke and Paris-bound pair Dean Clancy and Jack Marley.

Mullaghbawn light-middle Eugene McKeever, who boxes out of the Holy Family club in Drogheda, will bolster his international experience after an impressive showing during a recent victory over Ukraine’s Yurii Zakharieiev in Castlerea.

Also given the chance to impress are McKeever’s club-mate Rickey Nesbitt (51kg), Adam Hession (57kg), Shannon Sweeney (50kg) and Niamh Fay (54kg).

“This is a very strong team, fresh from a dual-nations camp with Ukraine in Castlerea, which culminated in an international on April 5th – Ireland won 10-2,” said Tricia Heberle, Irish Athletic Boxing Association High Performance director.

“While this is an Olympic preparatory tournament for boxers already qualified for the Games, it is a vital performance and carding opportunity for all team members.”

“This will be a very tough tournament,” added Irish head coach Zaur Antia, “as many federations will use this championship to prepare for Paris.

“There will be no easy wins but every boxer on the team is prepared, is focused, and knows their goals.”

The International Boxing Association - organisers of this European Championships - will award prize money, with those finishing at the quarter-final stage receiving $1,000, bronze medallists $5,000 apiece, silver $10,000 and gold medallists $15,000.

Ireland brought home five medals from the European Youth Championships in Croatia
Ireland brought home five medals from the European Youth Championships in Croatia

And they will bid to follow on from the success of the Irish team that competed at the European Youth Championships in Croatia.

Three Irish boxers struck gold in Porec, with light-welterweight Ava Henry and welterweight Kyla Doyle-Byrne winning their finals within half an hour of each other on Sunday before, in the final bout at the event, Dublin super-heavyweight Adam Olaniyan became the 13th Irish boxer to win a gold medal at this level.

In her final on Saturday, flyweight Grace Conway claimed silver after coming out just the wrong side of a tight tussle with Taisiia Pokusai of Ukraine, while Ryan Jenkins and Tadhg O’Donnell both returned with bronze medals.

It was an impressive performance from the Irish, who finished third in the medal table despite taking a significantly smaller squad that several other nations.