Barrow’s Liam Conroy came narrowly short in his big to become the WBO European light heavyweight champion on Friday night, as he was defeated on points by former sparring partner Steven Ward.

In what was a pulsating and brutal contest at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, Conroy came close to winning the bout against the undefeated hometown hero on more than one occasion, although both fighters rained in punches throughout.

A clash of heads in the second round led to a cut just above Ward’s left eye and by the eighth that had become a deep gash with blood pouring out, eventually leaving the referee with no option but to stop the fight.

But because the cut was down to a head clash, it went to the judges, with all three scoring the bout 76-75 in Ward’s favour, showing there was very little between the two combatants.

There was nothing cagey about this title fight, which headlined the night, bar the first couple of minutes of the opening round.

Ward was the early aggressor, but Conroy took control in the second, hammering in some big shots while he had his opponent on the ropes.

The 26-year-old then knocked Ward down in the fourth with a left hook, but Ward showed his toughness by not only quickly shaking that setback off, but by also going on to control the next two rounds.

That eventually proved a crucial stage of the bout and Conroy looked to be tiring during it, but the Barrow ABC graduate found a second wind in the seventh, with a big right hand rocking his opponent once more.

At was at this point, however, where Ward’s cut had become a real problem, with the blood spilt from it actually causing Conroy to slip on the canvas in the eighth, and that eventually brought a premature end to a fight that deserved a grander finish.