There’s life in Darren O’Neill yet.
The 31 year old Kilkenny heavyweight claimed his seventh Irish Elite title on Friday night, defeating Kenny Okungbowa in a bruising encounter at the National Stadium.
A strong start and a strong finish ensured that O’Neill won his third heavyweight title on the trot after a somewhat scrappy decider against the strong Athlone puncher, taking a unanimous decision win over the always-improving Okungbowa.
After the win O’Neill told Irish-Boxing.com that “as I said last week, Kenny was going to try drag me into a brawl, and that’s what he did. I thought I boxed the first round reasonably well. The second I just let him in on top of me a bit. I kept thinking to myself ‘Christ, Darren, box!'”
“That’s what the boys were shouting at me in the corner. Ollie [O’Neill] was telling me that throughout. It ended up in the corner going into the last with them going ‘Do you want this? If you want it, box! You’re f*cking Darren O’Neill!'”
“I tried to get back to a little bit of that, I always want to stand and have a tear up, but I’m happy that I did enough boxing to get the win. When I stuck to my boxing it was easy.”
“I was the one that hit the bigger punches, I’m the one that rattled him. Not one shot did he hit me with that bothered me.”
“He got in close and was hitting hard to the side of the head and body, but I was landing clean shots and I knew that throughout. You need to be careful with the new scoring though, with ‘domination,’ but all he was doing was lying on me, bulling forward.”
Veteran O’Neill has booked his place on the Irish team for the coming year, 13 years after his international debut, and will head to the European Championships in Kharkiv – where a Top 8 finish would see him qualify for the World Championships in Hamburg.
“Europeans are later this year,” outlined O’Neill. “I’m looking forward to them, I can’t wait. It’s always great to represent your country on the international stage, so why not go back to another Europeans. It would be fantastic to get to another Worlds, but I’ll play it by ear.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Gearoid O’Colmain’s European gold medal won at the 1947 European Championships in Dublin. Since then Ireland have not won any medals at heavyweight (or super heavyweight) in any of the three major international tournaments.*
O’Neill believes that he has the talent to end this drought and said that “I would never shirk responsibility, we’ll give it one last try. There might be a major medal there, I’ve no doubt I have the ability.”
“The two fights I felt hard done by in last year or so were both against World bronze medalists [Abdullayev Abdulkadir and Gevorg Manukian], I held my own with them, I’ve beaten the World and Olympic champion [Evgeny Tishchenko], so why not, I’ll give it a go! If I can combat their size and stick to my boxing, I have a great chance in every tournament I enter.”
Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)
*Olympic Games, European Championships, and World Championships. Con Sheehan Alan Reynolds, and Cathal McMonagle have medaled at the EU Championships while Okungbowa claimed bronze at last year’s World University Championships.