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Walker beats British rival and top seed to join Harrington and Walsh in European Games finals

The world champion will face the scourge of Irish boxing, and one of her inspirations, Mira Potkonen in the decider.

Updated Jun 28th 2019, 8:10 PM

IRELAND’S KURT WALKER saw off British rival Peter McGrail to become the third Irish boxer to reach a final at the European Games in Minsk.

Walker, who previously beat European king McGrail to win gold at the 2018 EU Championships, repeated the feat this evening to book his spot in the 56kg decider.

‘King Kurt’, a Lisburn native and deemed to be a worthy successor at bantamweight to his close friend Michael Conlan, was awarded a razor-tight fight on a fitting 3-2 split decision.

Theirs was a chess match but one in which the suspense and skills purveyed provided plenty of captivation.

There was little to separate either man over three rounds but Walker finished ever so slightly the stronger, which may have swayed the verdict in his favour.

“It was so tough,” said Walker. “He’s so good technically. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them coaches telling me the gameplan, honestly.

“I just tried to perfect it as best I can. I wasn’t doing some things right, but I got the decision and I’m delighted.

“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: in at 12, back home at 12 at night.

“I’m very thankful of everyone back home, as well — the support is brilliant.

It’s unbelievable. Four years ago, I went out in my first fight. And now I’m in the final. Hard work really does help, like. It really does.

Lightweight world champion Kellie Harrington will meet Finland’s Mira Potkonen in the 60kg decider after earning a unanimous-decision win over Sweden’s Agnes Alexiusson in this evening’s semi-final.

Four judges awarded the bout to Harrington on a score of 29-28, or two rounds to one, while one other judge saw the Irishwoman as a 30-27 (3-0) victor.

Potkonen, who eliminated Katie Taylor from the 2016 Olympics in Rio and has twice bested Harrington at major tournaments since, was typically powerful and dominant in her semi-final against multiple-time major medalist Anastasia Beljakova of Russia.

Harrington won fairly comfortably, too. The north inner city native kept her distance throughout, boxing at range and attempting to catch Alexiusson on the counter. The Irish switch-hitter was potent off both hands, catching the eye with a few neat flurries in the opener.

Alexiusson started the second round on the front foot but it was Harrington who eventually landed the more notable blows, a pair of right hands upstairs the highlights of a quieter verse.

Harrington was ordered by the Irish corner to stand her ground more in the third and started the final round assertively before eventually conceding it as the Swede went for broke in the final minute.

At that stage, barring a miracle for Alexiusson, the fight seemed to be in the bag for the world champion. And so it proved.

“I came here last time and got a bronze medal,” said Harrington. “I came in here [this time] and said, ‘Hopefully, I’ll get more than a bronze.’ And now I’m in the final.

The best thing about it is we [the Irish team] are a wolfpack. I’m not a lone wolf — we’re a wolf pack. We’re all here as a team, we’re all medalling. It’s fantastic. Irish boxing is well and truly alive.

“I haven’t had a fight since February so to be back here now and to be in a European final… That’s just… This is what dreams are made of. I have, I think, nearly every medal now except for an Olympic one.

“This is just fantastic for a girl out of Dublin 1,” she laughed. “It’s brilliant.”

Katie Taylor with Mira Potkonen Mira Potkonen ended Katie Taylor's Olympic dream in Rio, and has twice beaten Harrington since. Source: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Sunday’s final against the machine-like Finn is a tall order, and will see Harrington seek to avenge her previous defeats to Potkonen.

Of their rivalry, she recently told The42:

“D’you know, what, right? That woman, she actually inspires me. “It’s crazy, like. She’s a role model for me, Mira.

“She has two kids, she’s thirty… I think she’s 39, now, is she? I remember trying to add it up and thinking, ‘Yeah, she’s going to be 40 in Tokyo.’ I think she’s going to be 40 in Tokyo, anyway. But she has two kids, we’ll say she’s 37 or 38, and she is getting better, like.

“She’s not technically great, but she’s basic, and what she does works. And she’s a nice person, and it’s just great to see someone like her… For me, she’s a role model, and I love fighting her.

“The first time I fought her, the first round I was winning easily, and then halfway through the second round I just died. And it was survival mode then. And she won the fight, like. Split decision, but I dunno, she won it.

“Second time I fought her, I thought I’d done enough to get the decision. And I think she was quite shocked, as well, because I went forward a little bit more.

Third time… We’ll see how it goes. But it’s always an exciting fight — it’s a fight that I get up for. It’s like, ‘Oh, God, like! What’s going to happen today?’ It’s one of them fights. I enjoy it.

Bray light-flyweight Regan Buckley will take home bronze after losing a 3-2 split decision to Armenia’s Artur Hovannisyan in the 49kg semi-final.

Buckley, a surprise package at these Games, fought gallantly throughout a non-stop action bout and wasn’t pleased with the verdict, but Rio Olympian Hovannisyan was worth his victory by the slenderest of margins.

A podium finish is no mean feat for Buckley, for whom this was a first major international tournament at senior level.

The same goes for Portlaoise middleweight Michael Nevin, who will return with a bronze medal after being knocked out by Italian Salvatore Cavallaro in his 75kg semi.

Earlier on Friday, Belfast’s Michaela Walsh booked her spot in the 57kg final with a superb victory over Russia’s Daria Abramova, while Tullamore’s Gráinne Walsh was edged out on a split Poland’s Karolina Koszewska. The latter Walsh will take home bronze.

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