One of the most eagerly anticipated National Elite Championships in recent times gloves off at the National Stadium on Friday.
Nigh on 90 boxers will compete across the weight classes for National glory and in some cases more.
Considering it’s an Olympic year it’s the last real chance for boxers at Olympic weights to raise their hand for Olympic qualifier selection.
It promises to be an extremely exciting tournament with plenty of talking points before it begins, seven of which we here at Irish-boxing.com take a look at.
STARTS WITH A BANG
The tournament gloves off in style as Paul Loonam and Dylan Eagleson lock horns on the opening night.
The reigning champion and European under-22 medalist begins his defence against a European silver and Commonwealth gold medal winner at the home of Irish boxing. It’s a pairing you’d find hard to equal at any National Championships around the world.
The fact two fighters of such quality share the ring so early in the tournament signifies just how strong this instalment of Irish boxing’s premier tournament is.
57kg IS STACKED
The mouthwatering Eagleson v Loonam clash is just one of many that will excite at featherweight. A stacked 57kg field looks certain to deliver.
Joining Eagleson and Loonam are emerging talent and a National Elite champion in his own right, Davey Joyce, International Adam Hession ,as well as Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Jude Gallagher. Two-time finalist Sean Purcell will be hoping this is his year, as will 2021 National Elite champion Paddy McShane who moves up in weight.
Always a big topic of discussion straight after the draw. Thankfully it is less of an issue this year but there were some high-profile withdrawals between the publishing of the entry list and draw.
Out go world champions Lisa O’Rourke and Amy Broadhurst as well as Olympic bronze medallist Aidan Walsh. Reigning Champion at 48kg Nicole Buckley, recent Intermediate Champion Dearbhla Rooney, and youngster TJ King are also noteworthy absentees.
Female 66kg, though, is possibly the division most impacted by the casualties
66KG DOWNGRADES TO JUST ‘EXCITING’
The aforementioned welterweight has been downgraded from ‘as exciting as you can get’ to just ‘exciting’ due to withdrawals.
A world-class field of Christina Desmond, Kaci Rock, Grainne Walsh, Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke looked set to battle it out for National honours.
However, two of the best amateurs on the planet Broadhurst and O’Rourke are out. It lessens the excitement somewhat but the remaining three are decorated internationals in their own right. Rock versus reigning champion Walsh is still a mouthwatering semi-final and either against Desmond in the decider is a huge fight.
71kg ANOTHER WEIGHT PROMISING SO MUCH
The Male 71kg weight class is another full of talent and a division that guarantees entertainment. It has lost one of its biggest names, with Olympic medal winner Aidan Walsh a casualty of the draw, but it remains mouthwatering nonetheless.
Multiple National Champion Wayne Kelly moves up and joins the party, reigning champion Dean Walsh will look to retain #1 spot, the always confident Ulster Champion Jon McConnell will want to have a say, as will international Eugene McKeever, while the likes of the always there-or-thereabouts Michael Avetisian, young talent Darragh Gilroy, and reigning Irish third level champion Matthew McCole will compete.
There are several straight finals, notably, the meeting of reigning Olympic lightweight champion and Paris Olympian, Kellie Harrington, and Tramore BC’s Zara Breslin, a repeat of the most recent 60kg decider.
Another Double Olympian, middleweight Aoife O’Rourke, also has a straight final and a very intriguing fight with Geesala’s Ciara Ginty, a Youth Olympic silver medallist who has been in and out of the sport since her 2014 triumphs.
There’s also a renewal of the recent Intermediate Championships bantamweight final as Raphoe’s Danny Duffy and St. Colman’s Oisin Worsencroft throw down again. At 63kg, Linda Desmond of Rylane meets St. Mary’s Isabella Hughes in the title fight.
In a repeat of 2020, the Men’s 51kg final pits two Internationals and reigning champions against each other, as European Games athlete, Sean Mari, contests against reigning 48kg Elite champion, Rickey Nesbitt of Holy Family Drogheda.
The draw has kept apart close friends and 86kg rivals Kelyn Cassidy and Gabriel Dossen meaning the pair could possibly meet in what would be a hugely anticipated decider.
Cassidy has established himself as the main light heavyweight in Ireland over recent years whilst proving his International class at the World Championships in 2021 and this year’s European Games.
Indeed, the Waterford fighter came as near as you can get to a European Games medal, Olympic qualification, and one of the best wins in recent Irish boxing history earlier this year only to be edged by Olympic medallist and human buzzsaw Oleksandr Khyzniak.
The Déise fighter would be fancied to qualify for Paris via one of next year’s qualification tournaments but now faces a real battle for the right to be sent.
European middleweight gold medal winner Dossen has moved up to the weight due to the fact 75kg is no longer an Olympic weight. The Galway man is eyeing up Cassidy’s #1 spot and could meet his friend in a mouthwatering decider if they come through semi-final fights with Sean O’Bradaigh and Jason Clancy respectively.
HOME OR AWAY THE U22 DILEMMA
A number of fighters had to make a difficult decision between fighting for National or International honours. With the European U22 Championships starting next week a number of talents, both emerging and senior established had to select between competing for an Irish title on the South Circular Road or in Budva for a European medal. It would appear those in Olympic weights like Jon McConnell and Kacci Rock chose the Elites and those outside of the weights that will be contested in Paris decided to chance continental honours.