The final bell is set to toll on another successful twelve months for Irish boxing at home and abroad on Friday evening.
The year ends where it began 322 days ago last January at Dublin’s National Stadium with a re-run of the National Elite Men’s Championship finals.
The Irish Amateur Boxing Association are running the Elites twice this year to assist Ireland’s boxers heading into the various AOB, WSB and APB Olympic qualifiers in 2016.
Ten finals will be resolved Friday, with World and European medallists slated to battle it out for domestic supremacy from light-fly to super-heavy.
Michael O’Reilly, the current European Games champion, is the highest ranked AIBA boxer at the the flagship tournament of Irish boxing. The Portlaoise BC man is ranked World No.3 and European No. 1 at middleweight.
The 22-year-old is targeting a third successive belt in the 75kg class versus Conor Wallace of the St Monica’s BC in Newry.
“I’d be confident going into the final. It’s what I’ve been preparing for. I have to do what I do best. I’m focussing on that,” said the 2015 AIBA World Elite bronze medallist.
However, Wallace, the current Intermediate champion, believes he can pull off an upset. Remarkably, the St Monica’s BC were only founded this year and already have an athlete within striking distance of one of the biggest prizes in Irish boxing.
Wallace said: “It’s a massive occasion. I know that I’m going into the final as a big underdog, but I’m coming off the back of a few great wins, beating Conor Coyle (Commonwealth Games bronze medallist) and Eddie Byrne on route to the final.
“There is no pressure on me. The pressure is on him. Michael isn’t world number three for nothing. He is a top class opponent and I have a lot of respect for him.
“I’m confident and I’m boxing well, I feel fit and strong and I know if I box to the best of my ability I can cause an upset.”
Meanwhile, Brendan Irvine, nicknamed “Wee Rooster” is perched at No. 7 in the AIBA World light-flyweight rankings after winning European Games silver and reaching a World Elite quarter-final this year. The St Paul’s BC man has moved up a notch to flyweight.
He meets TJ Waite in an Antrim derby aiming to become the first Irish boxer to claim two Elite belts at two different weights in the same calendar year. Irvine beat ex World Junior champion Willie Donoghue in the semi-finals last weekend, while Waite, on an emotional evening for the Belfast flyweight following a bereavement in his family, decisioned Jason McKay.
The light-flyweight belt is currently vacant as January’s victor Myles Casey, who faces defending champion Kurt Walker in the 56kg final, has moved up to bantam.
Irvine is feeling strong at the new weight.
“I’m happy to get the first win, I just listened to what my coaches said. The game plan was to draw him in and box him and just get on with it. I feel a bit better, I’ve been working hard with my strength and conditioning coach, he said after his semi-final victory.
“I look a bit different and feel a bit different as well. I’m still tall enough at the weight too. I hope it benefits me and puts me on the road to Rio.”
Elsewhere on Friday, David Oliver Joyce, Ireland’s only AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) representative at the Elites, renews acquaintances with Sean McComb in a repeat of the 2014 final which Joyce won on a split decision to secure his fourth Elite crown.
McComb claimed the title in January and also added a European Games bronze medal to his impressive CV this year. Joyce, before inking a contract APB, won three European Union Elite belts on the bounce.
Friday’s light-welter showdown between Dean Walsh and Ray Moylette, meantime, is a repeat of January’s final which Walsh, a European Elite bronze medallist, shaded on a split. Moylette is a former European Elite and World Youth champion.
The Mayo light-welter insists there will be a different outcome in the rematch: “I carry that burden with me (of losing to Walsh) the last couple of months. Those are the regrets, but there won’t be any regrets this time.”
London 2012 Olympians Darren O’Neill and Adam Nolan are aiming for their sixth and fifth Elite belts. O’Neill faces Bernard O’Reilly, brother of Michael O’Reilly, and Nolan, nicknamed “The Guard”, meets Martin Stokes.“It’s always good to get the first one out of the way, said Wexford-born Bray BC southpaw Nolan, a team-mate of Olympic champion Katie Taylor, after his last-four victory.
“I have another big test again next weekend. Finals, you know nothing comes easy,” added the Wicklow-based Garda.
“You can forget about Istanbul (Olympic qualifiers) if you don’t perform. One bad performance can change your entire year,” said O’Neill, an ex European Elite silver medallist.
Stephen McKenna, who bid adieu to his underage career with a silver medal win at the recent European Youth Championships in Poland, makes his Elite debut versus fellow debutant Regan Buckley with the vacant light-flyweight belt up for grabs, while defending super-heavyweight champion Dean Gardiner, who has signed up for the World Series of Boxing for the upcoming season, is in against Thomas Carty.
The vacant light-heavy crown will be disputed between Christopher Blaney and John Paul Delaney at the final outing of the year for Ireland’s top boxers. Following Friday’s decider, the focus of attention will begin to switch to April’s Olympic qualifiers in Istanbul, Turkey.
Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward have qualified for Rio 2016 in the light-fly, bantam, welter and light-heavy classes.
Irish boxing will be aiming for nine other Olympics berths – three for women, six for men – in 2016. There are a number of routes to the 31st Olympiad through AOB, WSB and APB. There are no free rides to the 31st Olympiad. No free tickets are available, except for Brazil, the host nation.
The world’s Elites will run out of road next June at the final qualifiers in Baku, Azerbaijan.
With Olympic places on the line no quarter will be asked or given between now and next summer.
Getting out of Ireland is just the beginning, although given Ireland’s stature in international boxing it could prove to be the hardest part.
The journey to the 2016 Olympics will start for some and end for others at the National Stadium on Friday evening.
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National Elite Championships (2) 2015
Light-fly (49kg) – Stephen McKenna (Old School) v Regan Buckley (St Teresas)
Flyweight (52kg) – TJ Waite (Ormeau Road) v Brendan Irvine (St Paul’s Antrim)
Bantamweight (56kg) – Kurt Walker (Canal) v Myles Casey (St Francis)
Lightweight (60kg) – David Oliver Joyce (St Michael’s Athy) v Sean McComb (Holy Trinity)
Light-welterweight (64kg) – Dean Walsh (St Josephs/Ibars) v Ray Moylette (St Annes)
Welterweight (69kg) – Adam Nolan (Bray) v Martin Stokes (Holy Family Drogheda)
Middleweight (75kg) – Michael O’Reilly (Portlalise) v Conor Wallace (St Monicas Newry)
Light-heavyweight (81kg) – Christopher Blaney (Navan) v John Paul Delaney (Emerald Antrim)
Heavyweight (91kg) – Darren O’Neill (Paulstown) v Bernard O’Reilly (Portlaoise)
Super-heavyweight (91+kg) – Dean Gardiner (Clonmel) v Thomas Carty (Glasnevin)
Bernard O’ Neill – 089 469 7195 | email@example.com
Robert Connolly – o1 453 3371 | Robert@iaba.ie