7 Talking Points ahead of the Irish Elite Championships

The jewel of the Irish amateur boxing crown is back this weekend and returns freshly polished and ready to sparkle.

The first National Elite Championships since October 2021 glove off on Friday night and excitement surrounding the contest is higher than it has been in a long time.

Not only is there an absence makes the heart grow fonder element, the first ‘Seniors’ of an Olympic cycle always attract attention. The success Ireland had at international level last year brought boxing back to centre stage and people are excited to see European, World and Commonwealth medal winners fight for National honours. The fact the transition period seems to be over makes it a perfect storm, young emerging talents the boxing fraternity have been following are now established senior operators meaning there are big fights in nigh on every weight class.

That hype surrounding this year’s Elites was only fueled by the confirmation of the entry list and the draw, both of which raised talking points, seven of which we look into here.

BIG GUNS READY TO FIRE
The top names are back and ready to fire. The blue ribbon tournament had lost some of its unique sheen in recent years with a pre-Rio trend of big-name pull-outs carrying over to the Toyko cycle.

Indeed the 2020 edition (held in late 2019) was thrown into controversy following the withdrawal of seven of the biggest names on the entry list. The trend has led to major debates with plenty suggesting the #1 at certain weights were being advised against entering as to avoid any chance of creating debate around their international selection.

The IABA made it clear that any boxer hoping to be picked to represent Ireland at Paris 2024 qualifiers had to enter the Elites this month – and it means a stellar cast for the 2023 innings.

World Champion Lisa O’Rourke is one high-profile casualty but is out through injury, 71kg Esker fighter Luke Maguire, who represented Ireland at the European Championships last May is another, as is Jude Gallagher at featherweight but the numbers withdrawing post-deadline is far lower than in previous years.

However, the majority of perceived #1 were part of Tuesday’s draw, adding serious gloss to the eagerly awaited competition.

Will AMY STILL BE AMAZING?
There is no doubt Amy Broadhurst is one of the best boxers on the planet, amateur or pro. Perhaps Louth’s greatest-ever sports star looked sensational as she blitzed her way to Commonwealth, European, and World gold last year. The talented southpaw, who is deemed the best in the world at 63kgs, achieved the majority of that success above her natural weight.

Unfortunately, from Broadhurst’s perspective, an Olympic Champion in Kellie Harrington populates her chosen weight of 60kg and the division she has enjoyed huge success in won’t be contested at the 2024 Olympics.

That means a move further up the scale to 66kg and a whole new challenge. Although Lisa O’Rourke has pulled out through injury and Christina Desmond will compete at 70kg rather than 66kg as first expected, Broadhurst will have to fight her way to a fourth Irish Elite title.

Broadhurst won’t fear EU and European Games medal winner Grainne Walsh, talented underages star Leanne Murphy, or reigning champion and current #1 Kaci Rock – but there is only so much any fighter can go before size disadvantage negates their talent. ‘Baby Canelo’s’ idol Saul Alvarez is the perfect example, losing when he stepped up to light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol in the pro ranks.

Broadhurst can adopt multiple styles, which suggests she could find a tactical approach to see her finish top of the pile at the new weight but it will be interesting to see how she adapts nonetheless.

Emerge victorious and the 25-year-old instantly becomes an Olympic medal hope at the weight. If the opposite happens, Ireland may just have a pro-world title hope on their hands.

50KGS FULL OF 50-50 FIGHTS
Carly McNaul goes into these championships in the form of her life. The 33-year-old is enjoying somewhat of a second career and this year staked a claim for #1 little lady on the island status. A brilliant 12 months included a second Commonwealth Games medal and solid performances in both the World and European Championships. The world #4 also won the Ulster Elites at 52kgs and drops to 50kg this month in a bid to become an Olympian.

However, there is an abundance of young light flyweight talent looking to put a cloud over the Belfast fighter’s Indian Summer and getting out of Ireland could prove the most treacherous part of the path to Paris.

McNaul faces a challenge from four decorated, dangerous and determined fighters who are all in and around a decade her junior.

Indeed, all entrants have won major medals on the international stage, and picking a winner from the quality field is like picking a chocolate from a box of Quality Street after they changed the individual wrappings – the one you think you like may not prove to be the best choice.

Immaculata’s Caitlin Fryers, whose break-out year included a European silver medal win, is a High Performance-aligned talent of note who will also have Olympic ambitions – as will 48kg European bronze medal winner Shannon Sweeney. The Mayo fighter has moved up to light flyweight for these championships and is another who has found her feet at international level over the last year.

Wicklow’s Daina Moorehouse, an extremely decorated underage talent, will be determined to have a say. The Edenderry double Elite champ has never shied from sharing her Paris goals and will be coming for the domestic #1 spot.

Then there is Niamh Early, a High Performance alumni and World Junior medal winner, making 50kgs possibly the most competitive weight of them all.

NOT-SO-OLD OLD GUARD
The appearance of some not-so-old, old faces on the list of confirmed entrants raised eyebrows and excitement levels.

Dean Walsh’s comeback possibly raised the most excitement, but the least eyebrows, as news of his return has been brewing for months.

The former champion and Toyko 2020 hopeful has entered at the Olympic weight of 71kg and if recent form is anything to go by looks to be Olympic medal winner Aidan Walsh’s biggest threat.

Another former Elite winner who flirted with going pro is an interesting name is a very interesting weight class. Recent Katie Taylor sparring partner Myles Casey is one of the names at 57kg to look out for as trades competitive leather for the first time since he lost to Barry McReynolds in 2019.

The familiar name of David Oliver Joyce will be read out in Peter O’Donnell’s familiar tone at the National Stadium once again. Not DOJ the six-time senior finalist and three-time EU medal winner, rather his cousin who was excited when winning an Elite crown in 2019.

The young lightweight was rumoured to be turning over and has been sparring down the Colisseum where Pete Taylor’s fighters train but the former teen titlist returns at a non-Olympic weight this year.

The only woman to ever face Katie Taylor in the national championships, Shauna O’Keefe is back. The Tipp fighter holds an amateur victory over Amy Broadhurst and also suffered final defeat to Kellie Harrington. The European Championship quarter-finalist instantly becomes one to keep an eye out for at 63kgs.

STACKED 57kg is WIDE OPEN
There are stacked weight classes and then there is the male 57kg division.

Not only has it the highest number of competitors after 9 fighters entered but the Olympic weight is also packed with talent.

In fact, such are the array of competitors it’s a wide open hard to call division. Commonwealth Games star Jude Gallagher has pulled out, presumably via injury, but it’s still a division with the potential to delight.

Defending champion Adam Hession, who beat Gallagher on the way to claiming that crown 15 months ago, will be determined to keep his title and has had the favourite tag pinned on him by some.

Stepping down in weight, European Under-22 bronze medallist Paul Loonam is fancied by others and has made no secret of his desire to progress along the path to Paris.

Myles Casey, who represented Ireland at the 2015 European Games, adds a new and interesting dimension to the division and comes to the championships on the back of flirting with a move into the pros.

Sean ‘Prince’ Purcell won gold at the recent Algarve Box Cup and will be looking to be crowned Irish King. Patryk Adamus is another hopeful with Elite title winning previous and enjoyed Third Level International success this year. Paddy McShane is the reigning champion at 51kg and moves up to the Olympic weight for obvious reasons. Monkstown’s Jake Rapple is another who knows what it is like to step into the winner’s circle at the famous venue, while Katie Taylor’s cousin Jake Mc Mahon won Uner-22 honours last year and Jordan Smith is experienced at the level.

FRIENDS BECOME FOES
Friends are likely to become foes in the Olympic weight class of 80kg.

European middleweight gold medal winner Gabriel Dossen’s move up to light heavyweight is news in itself. The fact the reigning champion at the weight is a close pal adds further interest in the move.

By all accounts, Kelyn Cassidy, who proved his credentials as international class light-heavy with a run to the 2021 World Championship quarter-finals, and the Galway fighter are close friends and room together on International duty.

If they both come through their respective semi-finals they will share a much smaller space on the South Circular Road and a final that already appears mouthwatering will be made all the more appetizing by the friendships subplot.

CURIOUS OLYMPIC DECISIONS
The decision of both Dylan Eagleson and Christina Desmond to enter non-Olympic weights seems a curious one.

Both have proved themselves International level operators over the past 12 months and, as world-level fighters, were fancied to use these Championships to take the first step along the path to Paris.

The National Elites alone will not solely determine who the IABA pick to travel to Olympic qualifiers and, in that regard, Paris 2024 hope remains for both. However, the next two weeks will impact that decision and being number 1 and proving yourself #1 at an Olympic weight at the start of an Olympic cycle can only be a positive thing.

European Championship silver medal winner Desmond had initially entered at 66kg but was in the 70kg draw, presumably the full-time Garda felt she wouldn’t make the limit, 3kg below her lowest recorded weight as a senior boxer. The silver lining for the neutral is the fact she fights Evelyn Igharo in the semi-final in what is one of the fights of the tournament so far.

Eagleson will have his own reasons for entering at 54kg rather than 57kg but it’s still a move that caught everyone by surprise. The emerging talent had a sensational 2022, proving himself internationally capable despite his tender years and had been vocal about pursuing a Paris dream.

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