In a glittering night for Irish boxing, the final bouts in the European Championships in Budva, Montenegro, concluded with Ireland earning a historic haul of three gold and two silver medals to add to the two bronze medals earned on Friday.
Olympic champion Kellie Harrington won a unanimous decision over Lenka Bernardova of the Czech Republic in her lightweight European final, giving Ireland the first gold medal of the three.
Powerhouse Amy Broadhurst, who followed immediately after Harrington, impressively added a second gold to Ireland’s evening all in the space of just 20 minutes.
Then in the final Irish bout of the night, the now twice European champion, Aoife O’Rourke, earned a unanimous win over Poland’s Elzbieta Wojcik in the middleweight final as an overladen Ireland closed the championships with seven medals in all.
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Dubliner Harrington won all three rounds of her lightweight contest against the young Czech southpaw, an awkward opponent, where guile and patience from the more experienced hand came into play.
It was a low-scoring bout, especially in the first round as Harrington padded around the ring after her cagey opponent, who looked to counter punch and score off Harrington’s attacks. The more offensive of the pair in the short exchanges, it was Harrington’s measured boxing that caught the eye of all five judges for a 5-0 first round.
A scoring backhand right began the second round on an upward swing for the Olympic gold medalist and again Harrington fell into a pattern of controlling the pace and scoring on opportunity, Bernardova backing away as Harrington prowled around in an effort to cut her off.
Again, the judges went with Ireland, sending the fight into a desperate third for the young Czech fighter. But Harrington’s persistence and constant scoring with no weaknesses on show saw her steadily through to the gold medal, in the end without much fuss.
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With a World Championship gold and Olympic gold, the win completes the three majors as Harrington’s first European gold medal.
Broadhurst, too, earned Ireland’s second title of the evening with no questions asked as to who the winner was. But her’s was achieved in a completely different manner. The Dundalk light-welterweight World champion might have stopped Mariia Bova on another day, as she has already done in this competition, and in the first round forced a standing count for her opponent.
A powerful left, one of many landed by Broadhurst, buckled the Ukrainian on to the ropes before the referee took her aside for the count. It was all Broadhurst through the nine minutes, powerfully punching forward and with her dangerous backhand left landing throughout.
She cleaned out Bova in both the first and second rounds with a few 10-8 scores in the first and as it spun into a third, she continued to pour it on. It was a magnificently dominant display of confidence and power from the 25-year-old, and even the gruff Zaur Antia in the corner could not take the grin off his face as she went in at the end, her opponent demolished, and before her hand was raised the gold medal was in no doubt.
O’Rourke, straight away pushing back Poland’s Wojcik, took to her middleweight final in a similar mood to Broadhurst, flooding the zone with punching power and energy.
Her southpaw opponent reacted positively but could not match O’Rourke’s in-your-face confidence and was driven back for most of the first round. One judge saw it in Poland’s favour but the rest sided with O’Rourke. That was the end of any doubts in the judges’ minds about the performance.
In the second round there was more of the same from O’Rourke but with more tempo and accuracy of shot. Midway through, Wojcik appeared to wilt from the sheer amount of shots coming at her.
O’Rourke sensed it and in one short sequence Wojcik fell back against the ropes almost defenseless and she went to work.
Two judges saw it one-sided enough to mark the round 10-8 as O’Rourke grew in stature. There was no way back for the Polish fighther, as the 25-year-old from Castlerea poured on more of the same until the final bell. It was, as everyone thought it would be. Unanimous.
Christina Desmond will be pleased with silver but frustrated she came so close in her light-middleweight contest against Armenia’s Ani Hovsepyan. While her opponent started strongly and won the first round 5-0, Desmond came back into the bout, losing the second round on a split decision but winning the third round on all five judges’ cards.
Ultimately the 4:1 split decision went to Armenia but with the Garda taking a European silver medal back to Ireland.
Similarly the fearless bustling style of Irish light-flyweight Caitlin Fryers could not match the elusive Turkish fighter Naz Cakiroglue in her 50kg final.
Fryers went down on all five judges’ cards in the first round and more heavily in the second with three of the five marking it 10-8 to Turkey. It didn’t deter Fryers but getting in clean, scoring shots was the growing issue.
Fryers landed and chased throughout the three rounds, trying to close the ring and lure the Turk into some close combat. But she was having none of that, athletically darting around the canvas and firing off scoring shots.
It has been a wonderful learning curve for the 22-year-old Belfast fighter, who brings a silver medal back to her club Immaculata. But on the final day the quick hands of Cakiroglue made her a worthy 5-0 winner.