ALMOST a year since they last got any competitive rounds under their belts, Ireland’s boxers scored a mixed bag of results upon their return to the international arena yesterday.
Belfast featherweight Michaela Walsh and Dublin lightweight Kellie Harrington both landed impressive victories at the Strandja International Tournament in Sofia, but there were also opening day defeats for Harrington’s St Mary’s club-mate George Bates and Smithfield heavyweight Kirill Afanasev.
Bates was the first Irish fighter between the ropes in the Bulgarian capital, and the first to fight since Kurt Walker lost out to Germany’s Hamsat Shadalov at the European Olympic qualifier in March 2020.
Unfortunately for lightweight Bates he was paired with tough Uzbek Asadkhuja Muydinkhujaev and came up short over the three rounds, losing via unanimous decision.
Walsh – whose younger brother Aidan was named in the Irish squad last week but didn’t feature in the 69kg draw – produced a confident display to see off Morocco’s Widad Bertal. The two-time Commonwealth Games silver medallist is back in action today, bidding for a place in the last eight.
On the other side of the draw from Walsh is Delfine Persoon, the Belgian policewoman who has twice boxed Katie Taylor in the pro ranks returning for another crack at the amateurs, and dropping down from 60kg to 57kg.
It wasn’t to be for Afanasev, however, as he bowed out to Turkey’s Mujahit Ilyas, losing on a split decision.
Harrington, who would be a strong medal hopeful should she qualify for this summer’s Olympics, was the last of the Irish contingent to fight in the Bulgarian capital.
And the 2018 World champion wasted no time in getting down to business as she scored a unanimous decision win over Poland’s Aneta Rygielska.
American talent Rashida Ellis and Finnish veteran Mira Potkonen, conqueror of Katie Taylor at Rio 2016, are some of the other names in a stacked weight class.
Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine received a bye into the quarter-final and will face Kosovo’s Bashkim Bajoku on Thursday. Shakhobidin Zoirov, the Uzbek who went all the way to gold in Rio after defeating Irvine in the first round, is on the other side of the flyweight draw.
Dublin light-heavy Emmet Brennan enters the fray today when he takes on Ukraine’s Stepan Hrekul, with a quarter-final clash against either Ruslan Koleshnikov (Russia) or Ntambwe Gaetan up for grabs.
Flyweight Niamh Earley and middleweight Aoife O’Rourke are also in action today. Earley takes on France’s Wassila Lkhadiri after receiving a bye into the last 16 while 2019 European champion O’Rourke is up against home favourite Georgieva Dobromira.
Tomorrow, Galway super-heavy Gytis Lisinskis faces a tough ask on his senior international bow after being drawn against India’s experienced Manjeet Singh in the preliminary round.
Like Aidan Walsh, Michael Nevin is another notable absentee from the Irish squad, having been part of the provisional panel. The Portlaoise middleweight won his first fight at last year’s Olympic qualifier and will bid to seal his Tokyo 2020 spot when that tournament resumes in June.
There is no Irish 57kg in Sofia, meanwhile, as Walker was left to watch from the sidelines after testing positive for Covid-19 at the end of last year.
The Canal feather had been preparing for a World Olympic qualifier in June until a change in the qualification process left his place at Tokyo 2020 all but guaranteed.
The International Olympic Committee’s Boxing Task Force opted to scrap the World qualifier, preferring instead to use a rankings system upon completion of the continental qualifiers.
No matter what happens at the European qualifier therefore, nobody can claim enough ranking points to surpass the Lisburn man.
The 24-year-old admits he would love to be in Bulgaria this week, and hopes to see some competitive action before the Olympics get under way in July.
“It [Covid] didn’t take anything out of me but I had to isolate in the house for 10 days,” said Walker, who is training in Dublin this week instead.
“I probably could’ve still fought but it would’ve been a lot to ask. I tested positive on the 30th of December so took two weeks off training, then was advised to go easy the week I was back so I basically had three weeks off.
“I wasn’t even that focused because I knew I had to wait so long [until World qualifier], but now I know I’m getting the chance to go to the Olympics I’m going to put everything into it.
“Hopefully between now and then they’ll look at other stuff for me. There’s plenty coming up, countries are trying to get back to normal so I’m sure something will be sorted.”
The new book ‘Boxing in Donegal: A history’ is now available to buy online
NEW BOOK CELEBRATES THE BEST OF DONEGAL BOXING DOWN THE DECADES
A NEW book charting the formation and development of boxing in Donegal is now available to buy.
‘Boxing in Donegal: A history’, written by Donegal-based sports writer and author Chris McNulty, explores the foundations of the sport in Donegal and deals with its growth and development in the decades prior to 1950, when an organised structure was put in place.
The County Donegal Boxing Board, under the Presidency of Dr JP McGinley, was founded on September 18, 1950 at a meeting in St Conal’s Hospital, Letterkenny, and the first recorded tournament under the new Board’s auspices was 70 years ago, in March 1951.
‘Boxing in Donegal: A history’ is written in conjunction with the County Donegal Boxing Board and endorsed by the Irish Athletic Boxing Association and the Ulster Boxing Council.
The book was due to be launched in December, but those plans were shelved due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
The foreword is written by former WBO middleweight champion and Irish boxing legend Andy Lee, while the book also contains a persona piece by Donegal TD Joe McHugh, who boxed for Carrigart Boxing Club.
For the first time, all Donegal’s Irish champions will be listed. The roll of honour includes 344 Irish titles, 310 of which are under the Donegal Boxing Board’s auspices.
Donegal boxers have also won 23 medals at World, European and Commonwealth level while 71 other international medals have been collected and a record of all of Donegal’s professionals is included.
Chris McNulty is sports editor with the Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub websites and was honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage of the sport. The St Johnston native is also the publicist of Ballybofey middleweight Jason Quigley.
This will be McNulty’s second book after his 2019 publication ‘Relentless: A Race Through Time’, the memoir of former Irish athletics team manager Patsy McGonagle.
Charting over 100 years of boxing history, ‘Boxing in Donegal: A history’ is available to pre-order online only. All copies ordered now will be dispatched in mid-late March. It costs €20, plus the cost of distribution, and is available to order at https://donegalboxinghistory.com/
Please note that the online pre-order is the only way you can purchase a copy.