So happy it's unbelievable: Lisburn boxer Kurt Walker strikes European gold to prove Olympic potential
Kurt Walker rubber stamped his potential for glory at the Tokyo Olympics next year when he struck gold at the European Games in Minsk yesterday.
With his unanimous victory over Mykola Butsenko of Ukraine, the Lisburn man proved he is the number one bantamweight in Europe among a plethora of gifted boxers - including his semi-final victim Peter McGrail of Liverpool, a former European champion.
Walker had previously lost twice to McGrail but has now enjoyed back-to-back wins over the Scouser and only two years ago the Antrim boxer had lost unanimously to Butsenko. In the space of three days he confirmed just how far he has come with two exceptional performances.
Having admitted that in the past his dedication did not match up to a promising natural ability, Walker is now standing tall with a genuine self-belief of being able to beat the best coursing through his veins.
Walker has developed a great composure in the ring and he clinically went about his work as he picked off the rough, tough Ukrainian with his stinging blows.
"It's unbelievable - it was everything coming true. You have these dreams of it happening, but when it actually does happen you don't know what to do, you just feel so happy it's unbelievable," said Walker, who has picked up the bantamweight mantle laid down by former team-mate and European gold medallist Michael Conlan in 2016.
"I actually can't describe how I'm feeling, it's absolutely unbelievable. To come here at the start and believe I'll win gold, but for it to actually happen is just on a different level.
"He was very tough, he's been about. This was his third European final so he's very experienced and he kept coming and coming, so I'm just glad I was able to fight through it. Two years ago in the European Championships he beat me in the semis 5-0 and it just shows I've grown so much as a boxer and a man in the last two years
"The coaches need so much credit, the game plan it was unbelievable and I knew it was working. I came back after the first round and they were both buzzing and they're never usually like that! You usually have to do more and more, but they were both buzzing and they said keep picking it up, and thankfully I did."
Fellow Antrim boxer Michaela Walsh returns home today with a silver medal following her narrow loss at the hands of Bulgarian Stanimira Petrova on Saturday in their featherweight decider.
"I'm completely heartbroken, I thought I had it but I just have to accept the decision," Walsh said after her defeat.
"It's all about the lead-up to Tokyo so I will just have to get back to the drawing board and move on."
Two of the judges scored the fight 30-27 to Petrova, with two others calling it 29-28, with Russian judge awarding the fight 29-28 to the Monkstown fighter.
Meanwhile, Ireland's boxing captain Kellie Harrington had to withdraw from her lightweight final due to injury but was nevertheless delighted to bring home a silver medal.
"It's a great achievement to come out here and get a silver medal, as well as the team picking up six medals," said Kelly.
"I'm delighted to be a part of such an amazing team. I'm disappointed not to have fought in the final but sometimes you have to look after yourself as number one priority - we have a bigger picture in mind.
"As team captain coming out here with such a strong team, to be honest I didn't expect anything different. We got what we came out here for and that's all that can be asked of us and of the team. I'm very proud of the team and absolutely honoured to be team captain."