Two bronze medals for Team Ireland in Sofia

Sadly Ireland’s interest in the 2018 EUBC European Championships at the Asics Arena in Sofia has now come to an end with yesterday’s defeats for Kelly Harrington and Michaela Walsh both on the losing ends of split decisions. Today’s finals though will be of great interest not only to the boxers themselves but also the Irish Head Performance Coaching and Team Management teams headed by Zuar Antia and Bernard Dunne.

So both Harrington and Monkstown’s Walsh have ‘consolation’ Bronze medals but without doubt they will be reviewing their own performances too as neither boxer would have settled for bronze when this event got underway. True there have been mutterings – as always – about the judges’ scorecards and yes, the EUBC too needs to address this issue as indeed does the AIBA. That said this affects boxers not only from Ireland but most countries and remember this is ‘only’ the Europeans NOT the World’s which will see ALL of the top boxers from every Continent take part.

One bit of additional good news for Ireland in Sofia yesterday was that Russia’s Iakushina is through to today’s final and that means that Ireland’s Grainne Walsh now automatically qualifies for the 2019 European Games in Baku, as of course do Harrington and Michaela Walsh by virtue of their placings.

So how did yesterday’s fights go? This report from the IABA’s PRO, Bernard O’Neill:

“Michaela Walsh and Kellie Harrington had to settle for bronze at the European Women’s Elite Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Dublin lightweight Harrington was beaten on a 4-1 split decision in the semi-finals of the tournament by Finland’s Rio 2016 bronze medallist Mira Potkonen.

Neither woman dominated a tight but open bout. Harrington, switching from southpaw to orthodox and back, found the target with crisp jabs in all three rounds, Potkonen responding with solid combinations.

Harrington impressed with an excellent left straight right down the middle in the third, but Potkonen, who beat Katie Taylor at the Rio Olympics, again replied with combinations approaching the ten second clapper for the end of the round and the fight, a repeat of the 2017 EU final which the Finn won.

The Dubliner will be bringing home bronze from Sofia and also a ticket for the 2019 European Games as the 11th edition of the European Women’s Elites are a qualifier for Games which will be hosted in Belarus. The top ten in the lightweight class qualify.

Belfast feather Walsh, the current EU champion, lost on a 3-2 split verdict to Russian feather Daria Abramova, whom Harrington has beaten in the past, after a tight and cagey 57kg decider.

Walsh  landed enough shots in all three rounds, and worked well to the body in the first. Abramova, a stand up and solid fighter, was effective at close range when she managed to find her way beyond Walsh’s jab.

Walsh, the current EU champion, got the better of a furious flurry in the final  few seconds of the third and final frame, but a majority of judges opted for Abramova who is aiming to become a two-weight European champion.

Both Harrington and Walsh will be presented with their bronze medals during Tuesday’s finals.”

What had the boxers themselves and their Coaches/Management  to say after Monday’s bouts?

Team Manager and HPU chief Bernard Dunne via Social Media:

“@Bernard_Dunne

Our journey in these championships has come to an end with both our athletes bowing out today but no better place to learn & prep for Tokyo 2020 than in the business end of a European championships. 3 athletes, 3 qualified for European Games and 2 medals #TeamIreland 🇮🇪”

“Michaela Walsh

My quest to Gold came to an end today against Russia. I lost a close 3-2 split decision which I thought I won in a brilliant fight. A lot of positives to take as I feel I am improving all the time. Only my second tournament at this weight and I’m getting stronger and fitter every day. No- one or nothing will stand in my way. I am a winner European elite bronze medallist… see you soon Gold medal… #blessed #GMO #onlythestart

Kelly Harrington also on her Social Media pages this morning:

“So my journey in the European Championships came to an end yesterday when I lost out to Finland l, I will be coming home with a Bronze Medal and Qualification for the European Game’s next year 2019. Altho I am so heartbroken right now I am also happy to medal at this tournament as I have been out here at these championships many times trying to medal and never succeeded but this time I did so that means all my hard work is finally starting to pay off. I have a fantastic team behind me from my club St.Mary’s to the Irish institute of sport HP team and IABA. We are all singing off the same hymn sheet and we will continue to do so and work on the fine tuning of that work. Thanks to all friends, family, supporters and coaches for always believing and pushing me towards my dreams every day. And my 2 team mates out here they have been class from the start we are the definition of the dream team no BS needed. I am down right now but not out:)

#BelievePerformAchieve

#WomenInSport

#3WomenOnAMission

#AllSponsorshipWelcome:)

#WhereIsThePIZZA “

So there you have it, the views of some of the team and HPU supremo Bernard Dunne.

The writer remains of the view that this was an important championships and the IABA and its HPU Team should have sent minimum 5, possibly 6 boxers to Sofia even if it was felt that the others would not necessarily medal. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for actual competitive experience as these tell us more than any training or sparring camps albeit the latter are valuable. The IABA/HPU teams MUST take this on board and send more females to top class International competitions of which there are many in Europe. They sent 31 to the schoolboys/schoolgirls Championships recently in Italy so why only 3 to  Sofia?

Remember Russia have 7 through to today’s finals and insofar as medals are concerned at last count:

Russia: 9 medals

Bulgaria: 6 medals

Turkey, Ukraine: 4 medals each

Italy 3 medals

What is also clear is that many more nations outside of ‘powerhouse’ Europe also have very strong teams who will be vying for places at Tokyo 2020 with Asia and North America being particularly strong and Africa improving all the time, as Tokyo qualifiers draw ever closer.

The days when one boxer, Katie Taylor, dominated the ‘amateur’ sport and won Gold medals in every major Competition are over and Mary Kom’s great successes for India will also never be repeated – two of a kind for today women’s boxing is stronger than ever before and more and more women are excelling in ‘the noble art’- for ‘the times they are a’changin’…….

June 11

Semi-Finals:

57kg Michaela Walsh (Ireland) lost to Daria Abramova (Russia) 2-3

60kg Kellie Harrington (Ireland) lost to Mira Potkonen (Finland) 1-4

Irish squad

57kg Michaela Walsh (Monkstown) (Bronze)

60kg Kellie Harrington (St Mary’s) (Bronze)

69kg Grainne Walsh (Sparticus)

Team Manager: Bernard Dunne

Head Coach: Zaur Antia

Coach: Dmitry Dmitruk

Physio: Muireann Harte

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