Belfast Telegraph

Northern ladies have proved they can pack a punch...

Now they've finally made it onto big stage

By Steven Beacom

Girl Power. Don't you just love it? Michaela Walsh and Alanna Audley-Murphy have it in abundance. They also have a Commonwealth Games medal for their outstanding efforts in Glasgow. The colour is bronze. For now.

The dynamic duo plan to collect an even shinier one at the weekend.

We've known for decades that our male boxers can mix it on the big occasion.

Well, listen up, clearly our females have what it takes to be huge hits in the ring too.

Women's boxing is in the Commonwealth Games for the first time in history. Team NI have two girls taking part. And two guaranteed medals. That's a mighty impressive ratio.

Walsh, 21 and oozing youthful exuberance and talent, was the first to secure her prize, comfortably winning her quarter-final against the tall Jamaican Joy Sarah Rae in the flyweight division.

Watching from the sidelines and cheering on her pal was 28-year-old Audley-Murphy, despite the fact her last eight clash, and her first fight in the Games, was just an hour away. After securing victory, Walsh returned the favour.

Alanna, following a shaky start, fought like a tiger to overcome Dominica's Valerian Spicer on a split decision and join room-mate Michaela in the semi. When it was all over the pair of them locked in a warm embrace.

It was a lovely moment between the close friends, who are rooming together in the athletes' village, and illustrated the genuine team spirit in the camp that has been such a key element in the boxing squad's incredible success in Scotland.

The lightweight fight involving Audley-Murphy, from Eastside Boxing Club in east Belfast, was one of the more closely contested of all the women's bouts to have taken place here.

No quarter was asked or given as Spicer started strongly rocking the Northern Ireland woman back with big right hands.

Behind on all three judges' cards after the opening round, Audley-Murphy had to roar back. She did just that, coming out firing with everything she had.

Spicer, though, was just as determined with the pair of them trading blows in the centre of the ring much to the appreciation of the packed crowd inside the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.

Alanna finished the rounds stronger, landing one stunning straight right in the third round. By the end, I felt she had just nicked it but it was still touch and go.

The judges' scorecards read 38-38, 38-38 and 39-37 in Audley-Murphy's favour, leading her to smile and jump with delight.

"I was the last one of the Northern Ireland team to box, so the pressure was on," said Alanna, who will meet Australia's Shelley Watts in tomorrow's semi-final.

"I felt nervous and didn't make a great start. I knew I was down and that I had to dig deep and fight for my life.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I've always wanted to compete at a big event like the Commonwealth Games and have boxed for a long time to get here so I was determined to give it my all.

"To be on this stage and perform for your home nation, there's no better feeling and to make it on to the podium is just amazing. This is the best moment of my career and now I want to go two steps further and get the gold medal."

On her relationship with Michaela, Alanna, who started boxing aged 12, said: "I am a few years older than Michaela but I have known her since she was a wee nipper and she's a great girl. We are quite similar characters and bounce off each other.

"I watched her fight. Seeing her win gave me that little boost that I needed. Me and Michaela are history makers and you can't take that away from us.

"It's something to tell the kids and grandkids," added Audley-Murphy, who is on leave from the Army to fulfil her boxing dreams.

Audley-Murphy, a cheery character with a big heart, became the 50th Northern Ireland boxer to win a Commonwealth Games medal after Walsh had taken the tally to 49.

Walsh is a classy boxer. She may be young but already you can see the ring craft in her. Being coached at the Holy Family Club by the great Gerry Storey is helping her development no end. The opening round of four may have been tentative, but once she got that out of her system, Walsh took control against her Jamaican opponent.

On Monday night Michaela became the first female to win a boxing match at the Commonwealth Games. Yesterday she became the first woman to secure a medal.

Discussing her win, Walsh said: "I didn't know anything about my opponent but when I saw her I thought she was big.

"The first round I started very slow and couldn't get my punches off but we changed the tactics and I listened to my corner and by the fourth round I was feeling more comfortable and any punch that I was throwing I was catching her with it.

"Overall I was pleased with my performance to have another unanimous decision.

"I was just glad to get the win and to guarantee a medal. Words can't describe how I feel. It's unbelievable."

With both in opposite sides of the draw and in the semi-finals, there is increasing anticipation about the prospect of Walsh taking on England's Olympic Champion Nicola Adams in Saturday's decider.

"I am a big fan of Nicola's and if we do meet in the final that would be great.

"In every fight I'm looking for a performance and I believe if I fight to the best of my ability I can go all the way," said Walsh, who faces tough Indian Pinki Rani in tomorrow's semi-finals.

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