The National Elite Championships begin tomorrow, Friday February 3rd, with what is one of the biggest fields in recent times.
With the Rio Olympic cycle over, 101 boxers will be hoping to stake their claim as the main fighter in their respective division as we enter preparations for Tokyo.
For the men there is the added incentive that the winner’s of this month’s tournament will most likely represent Ireland at the European Championships in Ukraine in June and, should they achieve a top eight finish in Kharkiv, the World Championships in Germany in September.
With three weekend’s of high-quality action ahead of us, Irish-Boxing.com takes a look through all 20 divisions.
Men’s Light Flyweight – 49kg
Donegal destroyer Darryl Moran, a semi finalist at the last Seniors, comes into the tournament in great form having won the Under-22 title last week. Vastly experienced Derry southpaw Blaine Dobbins, runner-up to Paddy Barnes in 2014, will also fancy his chances, while Wexford youngster Connor Jordan will aim to make an impact as he enters the Elite scene.
Men’s Flyweight – 52kg
Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine will be the man to beat at flyweight. Competition for the Wee Rooster will come from last year’s runner-up TJ Waite and Intermediate champs Tommy Casey, who drops down from bantamweight, and Tommy McCarthy. Also featuring will be Holy Family duo Jason McKay and Ryan Adams, as well as experienced Dubliner Adam Courtney.
Men’s Bantamweight – 56kg
The phenomenally talented Kurt Walker will be looking to make it three in a row and will be joined at the weight by Stevie McKenna who has taken a big stretch since winning the light flyweight title last time out. Runner up last time, and 2015 champ, Myles Casey will also be in the mix. Massive-punching Intermediate lightweight champ Frankie Cleary makes the step down in weight for the tournament where it looks like he will be a force. Experienced duo Jason Kirwan and Evan Metcalfe have also entered, while Belfast hotshot Eamon McNally will hope to announce his arrival onto the scene.
Men’s Lightweight – 60kg
Reigning champ and Rio Olympian Davey Oliver Joyce is a surprise entry, with both retirement and a move to the pros having been rumoured. The talented George Bates will be confident of finally making a breakthrough at elite level, while the eldest of the McKenna brothers, Gary, makes the step up in weight. On the other hand, the experienced duo of 2014 Intermediate champion Patrick Mongan and Gerard ‘Lights Out’ Matthews make the step down from 64kg. Ballymena’s Anthony O’Rawe will participate in his third championships, while Bawnougue ABC’s Alan O’Connor is being tipped to impress.
Men’s Light Welterweight – 64kg
European bronze medalist Dean Walsh, still just 22, is aiming for four-in-a-row. Belfast’s Sean McComb has looked sensational since stepping up in weight, and will be joined at the weight by his Holy Trinity team mate Bernaldo Marime, who was a participant for Mozambique at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Wayne Kelly of Ballynacargy has impressed in the past two Seniors, while Steven Donnelly has always said that Vinny Esler is one of the most naturally talented fighters around. Kilkenny’s Keith Flavin comes into the tournament fresh off the back of his Under-22 title win last week, along with fellow tournament participants Casey Berry and Patrick Linehan, while Mayo hotshot Colm Quinn makes the step up to Elite level.
Men’s Welterweight – 69kg
Rio Olympian Steven Donnelly remains in the amateur ranks, for now, and will be the man to beat. Decorated Derry/Donegal underage star Brett McGinty makes the step up to the Elites, as will two of his fellow 2015 Commonwealth Youth medalists, Aidan Walsh and Tiernan Bradley. Dungloe’s IATBA champ Mark McCole will be in the mix, while Crumlin’s Peter Carr moves down from middleweight. Also set to feature are Ulster champion Ross Boyle, Ger French, Joe Nevin, Nathan Watson, and the hugely experienced Fergal Redmond.
Men’s Middleweight – 75kg
Conor Wallace, runner up last time, will be looking to go one better, while John Joyce is hugely confident. A surprise entry is Joyce’s St Michael’s Athy team mate Roy Sheahan, and the 32 year old is said to be looking sensational in training. Dundalk’s Stephen Broadhurst, runner-up in 2015, makes his return, while Fearghus Quinn and Emmett Brennan have experience at this level. Belfast’s Caoimhin Hynes makes the step up to middle, as does Conor Doherty. Also set to feature are Glory Lmuala, Tommy Zold, and David Bicevas.
Men’s Light Heavyweight – 81kg
Rio Olympian, double European gold medalist, and double World medalist, Joe Ward will be the heavy favourite. Mayo’s European Junior medalist Sean Conroy is hoping to make an impact, as will highly-rated Dub Tony Browne. The very experienced Sean Allen is also set to feature, as are Michael Frayne and Robert Burke.
Men’s Heavyweight – 91kg
London Olympian and reigning champion Darren O’Neill has decided to stay around for another year but will face heavy competition. This competition includes last year’s runner-up Bernie O’Reilly, World Universities bronze medalist Ken Okungbowa, Under-22 champion Geoffrey Kavanagh, Intermediate champion Cormac Long, impressive Smithfield slugger Kiril Afanasev, and John Joe McDonagh from Crumlin.
Men’s Super Heavyweight – +91kg
After missing out on Olympic qualification by a whisker, Dean Gardiner returns to defend his title. Last time’s runner-up and recent Under-22 champion Thomas Carty has Breakfast in his sights, as does Intermediates winner Martin Keenan. Damien Sullivan is very highly rated in Belfast, while there is a trio of Dublin contenders in Patrick Nevin, James Clarke, and John McDonald.
Women’s Light Flyweight – 48kg
2015 flyweight runner up Kristina O’Hara makes a step down in weight and is hotly tipped by many in Belfast. A high-quality weight class, 48kg also features recent Under-22 champion Shannon Sweeney and Intermediates winner Carol Coughlan.
Women’s Flyweight – 51kg
A straight final here, with veteran Ceire Smith taking on Belfast’s Carly McNaul.
Women’s Bantamweight – 54kg
Terry Mullarney of Ballyhaunis is the sole entry at this weight.
Women’s Featherweight – 57kg
The most populous weight for the women. Kerry’s Moira McElligott will be aiming to retain her title, but will face stiff opposition from last year’s bantamweight champ Dervla Duffy, recent Intermediate champs Amanda Coughlan (57kg) and Saibhdh Greene (60kg), Commonwealth silver medalist Michaela Walsh, and Under-22 runner-up Tiegan Russell.
Women’s Lightweight – 60kg
World Championships silver medalist Kelly Harrington makes the step down to the Olympic weight as she targets Tokyo 2020. This month she will be confronted by last year’s runner-up Shauna O’Keefe, Under-22 champion and decorated underage star Amy Broadhurst, as well as Rivers McCormack of St Saviours.
Women’s Light Welterweight – 64kg
Cheyanne O’Neill, runner-up last time, will hope to go one better. The Athlone fighter won the Under-22 title last month, defeating Ciara Ginty in the final. Geesala’s Ginty will be out for revenge here, while Emma Agnew of Dealgan will also want to make an impact.
Women’s Welterweight – 69kg
Offaly’s Gráinne Walsh will be looking to build on her impressive debut year at Elite international level. Her competition comes in the form of 2015 Intermediate champ Tina Donnelly, and Bray boxer Gillian Duffy.
Women’s Middleweight – 75kg
European and World Universities bronze medalist, and Irish-Boxing.com Fighter of the Year, Christina Desmond is the sole entry at this weight.
Women’s Light Heavyweight – 81kg
Intermediate champ Leona Houlihan of Crumlin will go up against the experienced Caroline Connolly.
Women’s Heavyweight – +81kg
Last year’s runner-up Maeve McCarron is the sole entry at this weight.
Irish-Boxing.com would like to wish the best of luck to each and every boxer participating in this month’s tournament.
Eric Donovan joins Gavan Casey and Joe O’Neill on Episode 2 of the Irish Boxing Show: