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Antrim duo Walsh and Walker are aiming to strike gold

 

Red-hot stuff: Antrim ace Michaela Walsh celebrates her semi-final victory
Red-hot stuff: Antrim ace Michaela Walsh celebrates her semi-final victory

By Bernard O'Neill

Ireland's Elite boxers are fighting like wolves at the European Games in Minsk, according to Irish captain and World Elite lightweight champion Kellie Harrington.

The Dubliner likened the Ireland squad to a medal-laden wolf pack yesterday after beating Agnes Alexiusson on a unanimous decision in the lightweight semi-finals.

The No.1 seed will now meet Katie Taylor's conqueror Mira Potkonen tomorrow morning after posting a 30-27, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 win over the durable Swede.

Antrim's Michaela Walsh and Kurt Walker are also through to the weekend's finals after beating former and current European Elite champions.

Harrington suffered a hand injury on Irish Elite finals night in Dublin last February and yesterday's outing was just her second competitive fight since picking up the knock.

The World No.1-ranked lightweight took all five judges with her to win rounds one and two across the board but lost the last frame on four of the five cards.

"The best thing about it is that we're a wolf pack. I'm not a lone wolf, we're a wolf pack. We're all here as a team and we're medalling. Irish boxing is truly alive," she said.

"Agnes is fantastic. I knew she was going to come, I knew she was going to be strong. I just had to stick to the game plan the coaches gave me. I have every medal now except an Olympic one."

If Harrington beats Potkonen, who beat the Dubliner in 2017 and 2018, tomorrow the European Games lightweight title will remain in Ireland as Taylor won the belt at the inaugural Games in Baku in 2015.

Walsh has vowed to finish the job against Bulgaria's former World Elite title holder Stamira Petrova in today's 57kg gold medal match. She beat the current EU champion, Russia's Daria Abramova, on a split decision yesterday to set up the featherweight decider against the Rio 2016 Olympian.

"It was great to get the win. I boxed that girl last year, it was the same in the European semi-final, it was a close fight. I felt I performed very well. I definitely won the fight, 100%.The job's not done yet. As Grainne (Walsh) said the other day, 'This is what dreams are made of'," said Walsh.

Walker shaded a 3-2 split verdict over England's No.1 seed Peter McGrail to post his second successive victory over the Liverpool southpaw.

The Ulster stylist hailed Irish coaches Zaur Antia, John Conlan and Dmitry Dimitruk.

"It was so tough, he's so good technically. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the coaches having a game plan. I got the decision and I'm delighted. Four years ago I went out in the first fight and now I'm in the final," said Walker, who beat McGrail in the 2018 EU final in Spain.

"It's a credit to the coaches. They've had a harder week than I have. They've been flat out for 10 days," added Walker, who'll meet Mykola Butsenko of Ukraine for 56kg gold tomorrow.

However, Offaly's Grainne Walsh and Bray's Regan Buckley had to settle for bronze after losing to Armenian light fly Artur Hovannisyan and Polish welter Karolina Koszewska on 3-2 splits.

Irish boxing will be taking home at least three silver and three bronze from the Games. The squad are due to arrive in Dublin at 11am on Monday.

Michael Nevin was knocked out in the first round by Italy's Salvatore Cavallaro.

The Laois middleweight was caught by a combination, the first of which appeared to be a forearm, and was counted out just over two minutes into the opening frame.

Meanwhile, Donegal's Sam and Chloe Magee from Raphoe beat Robin Tabeling and Selina Piek of the Netherlands 21-19 21-17 to reach the badminton mixed doubles semi-finals at the Minsk Games.

Chloe said: "To know that we are going home with at least a bronze medal for Ireland is an incredible feeling.

"We are currently at 37 in the world and have a tough semi-final on our hands on Saturday against GB's husband and wife pairing Chris and Gabby Adcock, who are ranked at 10 in the world.

"They have won our past encounters but we have been able to take a set off them."

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