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World champion Harrington takes Ireland's medal tally to 6 on sensational day for boxers

Michaela Walsh, Gráinne Walsh, Kurt Walker and Kellie Harrington have joined Regan Buckley and Michael Nevin in guaranteeing bronze.

Kellie Harrington (file pic).
Kellie Harrington (file pic).
Image: AIBA/INPHO

Updated Jun 26th 2019, 6:10 PM

WORLD CHAMPION LIGHTWEIGHT Kellie Harrington ensured a remarkable day for the Irish boxing team at the European Games in Minsk continued as she joined the medal rush by winning her 60kg quarter-final.

All six of Team Ireland’s medals across the multi-sport Games have been claimed in the boxing ring.

Harrington, a World Championships gold medalist in New Delhi last year, was pushed hard by Italian prodigy Irma Testa but earned a 4-1 split decision to reach the last four and guarantee herself at least bronze.

Testa, 21, was a Youth Olympic silver medalist in 2014 and found significant success against the 29-year-old Dubliner; the Rio Olympian was the physically stronger woman and so Harrington was forced to box off the back foot for large spells, getting caught with plenty of single shots but landing the more eye-catching, classier work over the three rounds.

The St Marys BC switch-hitter was especially dangerous striking with her backhand off the southpaw stance, and finished the bout in the ascendancy.

The Egyptian judge awarded the contest to the Italian on a 28-29 score, which didn’t seem inconceivable, but he was overruled by the adjudicators from Lithuania, Canada, Bulgaria and Australia, all of whom favoured the Irishwoman on scores ranging from 30-26 — harsh on Testa — to 29-28.

It was Harrington’s first fight of the tournament, and a first competitive bout since she was crowned world champion last November.

D-ADqiPXUAAYvmH Kellie Harrington lands a left hand on Irma Testa of Italy. Source: Team Ireland/Sportsfile

“The first one’s always hard”, said Harrington, “and Irma is a class boxer, like — she’s very technical. Credit to Irma, you know?

[It was] great. I’ve been a long time waiting. It’s been a bit head-wrecking, nerve-wracking; some of the team have had three fights and I’m only getting going.

“It felt great to be back in. I haven’t had a fight since February so I’m happy with the performance. I know now that my fitness is there, and it’ll drive me on now in my next fight.

Some people think, ‘You’re a top seed, it’s great’, but being a top seed means you have to wait longer and it’s more mental torture than anything because you’re sitting… I don’t leave the accommodation because I don’t want to be wasting energy, negative energy on stuff I don’t need to be doing.

“So it’s from the room to the food hall and then you can’t even eat what you want in the food hall so it’s mentally very hard”, Harrington added, “but I’m just glad one of them is out of the way now and it’s on to the next one.

It’s great to be on the same team where everybody else is medalling. It’s great for Irish boxing and it’s great for Irish sport.

“It was a real twitchy fight,” the Dubliner said of her own contest with Testa. “Kind of like cat and mouse… I don’t know who the cat was and who the mouse was! But I felt like I was landing the cleaner, heavier shots.

“Her shots were explosive but there wasn’t much force behind them whereas what I was throwing, they weren’t bombs or anything, but they were more powerful than hers, I felt.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Michaela Walsh, Gráinne Walsh and Kurt Walker all took superb victories over high-calibre opposition to reach the semi-finals of their respective classes, while Aoife O’Rourke lost out to British rival Lauren Price in the only blot on the Irish copybook for the day.

Michaela Walsh, no relation to Gráinne, earned Ireland’s third medal at the tournament in extremely impressive circumstances.

The 26-year-old Belfast woman earned a deserved 4-1 split decision victory in the 57kg quarter-finals over Germany’s Ornella Wahner, who is the reigning world champion at the weight.

In reaching the last four, Walsh added a guaranteed European Games medal to an already-stacked trophy cabinet: on the international stage, she has previously won European bronze, EU gold and two Commonwealth silvers.

Walsh became the third Irish fighter to medal at these Games in Belarus following the successes of Bray light-flyweight Regan Buckley and Portlaoise middleweight Michael Nevin on Tuesday.

“I feel great,” said an excited Walsh.

I felt a bit surprised when I heard ‘split [decision]‘, but obviously I’m against the current world champion. And I just dethroned her.

“I tried to stick with my tactics but the coaches came up with a brilliant gameplan.

“I feel I’m just getting better, fight by fight. It was amazing to get that win. I’ve had a tough draw but that’ll make winning the gold medal more worth it!

Since she won gold at my weight, my eyes have been on her. I’ve wanted to fight her for a long time. And I actually boxed her as a Youth boxer in the semi-finals of the World Championships — she beat me by one point and she stole my dream of becoming a Youth world champion. But I wasn’t going to allow her steal my dream of becoming European Games champion.

“So I just visualised myself winning and stuck to the gameplan, and thankfully I’m into the next stage now,” Walsh added. “We can move on from that and get better.

I’m proud but I’m not satisfied. My aim is for a gold medal. I can celebrate now but I’ll move onto the next opponent. The job’s not done yet.

Today’s victory is the second time in just over a year that the Monkstown BC fighter has taken out the reigning world champion at a major tournament. Last June, at the European Championships in Sofia, she beat Italy’s Alessia Mesiano to reach the quarter-finals.

Walsh went on to claim bronze, losing a 3-2 split to Russian Daria Abramova in the last four.

Tullamore welterweight Gráinne Walsh made it a fourth medal soon afterwards with an equally stunning victory.

Walsh, 23, dumped out the reigning European queen and former World Championships bronze medalist Elina Gustafsson of Finland in her 69kg quarter-final, taking the fight on all five of the judges’ scorecards.

With a sensational display against the Finn, the former Shamrock Rovers footballer earned her second major international medal after she took bronze home from the 2017 EU Championships.

D9_JPbZWkAUk0r4 Gráinne Walsh is Ireland's latest European Games medalist. Source: Team Ireland

“I swear, this is what dreams are made of, like,” said the Spartacus BC boxer-puncher. “I’m actually a bit emotional but it’s a great achievement. I’m just delighted with myself.

“I felt my technique and my speed would be enough to beat her, and thank God I tried to stick to the plan as much as I could — as always.

“But I’m just delighted. I had to bite down hard. That’s two tough fights, now, in three days. But the job’s only half-done: I’m fully focused to go the whole way.

“First, aim for the podium, then you’re aiming all the way to the top. The more fights you have, the fitter you get, the sharper you get, so…

“I’m rearing to go for the next round!”

D9_KfOpW4AEUoFE Gráinne Walsh celebrates her victory. Source: Bernard Dunne

Lisburn’s Kurt Walker — long touted as the successor to his close friend Michael Conlan at 56kg — earned Ireland a fifth medal with a 5-0 decision over Frenchman Samuel Kistohurry in his bantamweight quarter-final.

Walker has now medalled in all three major European competitions: the European Championships (bronze 2017), the EU Championships (gold, 2018) and the European Games (tbc, 2019). the 24-year-old also won silver at last year’s Commonwealths.

D9_XMIDWsAAlPox Walker is the fifth Irish boxer to medal in Minsk. Source: Team Ireland

“It’s probably the first-ever time I’ve fought in that style,” Walker said. “I just listened to the coaches, the same shots were working every time. I’m absolutely delighted to bag another medal.

“He was too fit to keep off”, Walker said, explaining his switch of styles. “He would have put me on the back foot, so I had to fight in his style which I’d never really done.

“Two tough fights but I’m happy, I’m improving every time. Our team is flying at the moment, so it’s brilliant.

I’ve been racking up the medals over the last two years now, so it’s good to keep it going. I keep surprising myself!

Roscommon’s Aoife O’Rourke, who won superbly in the last 16 against an opponent from host nation Belarus yesterday, lost out in Ireland’s final bout of the evening on a unanimous decision to Wales’ Lauren Price at middleweight.

The Castlerea BC fighter was also beaten by the hugely decorated Price at last year’s Worlds.

Team GB star Price, who guaranteed at least a bronze medal with her win, has taken the same colour at three separate European Championships as well as those same Worlds in New Delhi, and also has Commonwealth gold and bronze to her name.

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