WITH KRISTINA O’HARA having already booked her place in the Commonwealth Games light-flyweight final, five other Irish fighters this morning joined the Glenavy woman in reaching Saturday’s respective deciders.
Northern Ireland’s boxing outfit will depart Gold Coast, Queensland with at least six silver medals and two bronze after Carly McNaul, Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker and Walsh siblings Michaela and Aidan each won their semi-final bouts this morning.
Flyweight Carly McNaul got the Team NI contingent off to a flier in the wee hours, forcing Kenyan Christine Ongare into a standing count en route to a 5-0 unanimous decision. Nicknamed ‘The Wee Beast from the East’ by Commonwealths joint-captain Alanna Nihell, Belfast’s McNaul will square off with England’s Lisa Whiteside in the final.
Another Belfast fighter, 2016 Irish Olympian Brendan Irvine, matched McNaul’s feat shortly afterwards.
The ‘Wee Rooster’ reached the flyweight final at his first ever Commonwealths by way of victory over Scotland’s Reece McFadden, though it was the nature of the victory which was most impressive: Irvine was faced with a mountain to climb having lost the opener to the tricky southpaw, but edged the second and romped home convincingly in the third to secure a gold medal decider versus India’s Gaurav Solanki.
Irvine was awarded the fight on a 4-1 split, with two judges contentiously giving him the nod in all three rounds.
The highly-touted James McGivern found himself on the wrong end of a 4-1 decision at lightweight, however, and like Irvine’s opponent McFadden, can consider himself unfortunate to bow out in the last four.
The 20-year-old, tipped for Olympic success in Tokyo by many within Irish boxing, appeared to outbox Manish Kaushik for the opening two rounds, but a strong finish by the Indian saw him consign Belfast’s McGivern to bronze in his first ever international tournament as a senior.
“Devastated isn’t the word,” McGivern said on Facebook. “Heartbroken to be out but this is the sport I’m in.
“Everyone has their own opinion on the fight and scoring, but sure listen, at the end of the day you win some, you lose some. But I’ll live to fight another day.
“Besides all that crap, I honestly can’t begin to thank everyone for all the support – it’s beyond explanation. I’ve been overwhelmed and am sorry I couldn’t get the gold for us all to have a party with, but the storm doesn’t stop here.”
One suspects it will be the first bauble of many for the St. George’s man, and they won’t all be bronze.
EU champion Michaela Walsh was next up at featherweight, and she reached her second consecutive Commonwealth showpiece after dominating New Zealander Alexis Pritchard.
Walsh faces a mammoth task in her final, where she’ll trade leather with home favourite and lightweight World bronze medalist Skye Nicolson. The Aussie, who per Irish-boxing.com has an aunt living in Skerries, has in the past 18 months run Ireland’s Kellie Harrington close in two bouts on Irish soil. With the crowd on her side, she’s a serious proposition down at feather.
Get to know brother and sister, Aidan and Michaela Walsh. They are travelling to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games to compete in Boxing - wish them luck! #goldcoast #boxing #goodluck #GoTeamNI pic.twitter.com/i0llD51K81— Antrim&Newtownabbey (@ANBorough) April 2, 2018
The younger Walsh sibling, Aidan, made it a double celebration for the Belfast family as he joined his sister in making it to Saturday.
The tall welterweight breezed past rugged Fijian Winston Hill in his semi-final, and will face England’s Pat McCormack in the 69kg final.
“History to be made tomorrow for me and Aidan,” wrote Michaela on Instagram. “Commonwealth Games final, I’ve been working for this for four years since my last final.
“Tomorrow my dreams will come true, tomorrow I WILL become COMMONWEALTH GAMES CHAMPION along with my baby brother.”
Sandwiched between the Walshes, Lisburn’s Kurt Walker took another step towards emulating his close friend Michael Conlan’s 2014 gold in the bantamweight division, safely outclassing Canadian Eric Basran.
A European bronze medalist last year, Walker will trade leather with English standout Peter McGrail on Saturday.
“Absolutely buzzing!” said Walker on Facebook. “Performed well to win my semi-final… Delighted with my boxing so far. One more step to go! The support I’m getting is unbelievable… Thanks everyone!”
There was disappointment, however, for Rio quarter-finalist Steven Donnelly.
‘Donno’, campaigning at middleweight, started strongly against India’s Vikas Krishan, but was dropped to the body in the third round.
Bronze, though – and a third Commonwealth medal – is scarcely a bad return for the Ballymena man, who has frequently flirted with leaving the sport since the Olympics and was fighting as a middleweight for the first time as an international.
“Gutted about the result – it wasn’t to be,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Beat by the better fighter. It’s as simple as that. Great body shots which hurt me but I got up. I’ll never give up.
“Just felt flat today. We all want the gold medal – we don’t do this sport to be second best – but sometimes that’s the way it goes.
“I’m proud of myself. Four fights, three cracking wins up at a new weight. Another bronze medal. Grateful for it all, and thank yous all for your messages.”
Six of Northern Ireland’s 12 boxing entrants have reached their respective finals at this year’s Commonwealths, while eight of Team NI’s 12 medals to date have come in the ring.