Injury not interference – Bernard Dunne reveals big names absent from National Elites were injured

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Bernard Dunne has stressed that injury and not interference form the High Performance was the reason a number of big names missed the recent National Elite Championship.

The premier domestic competition was thrown into controversy when seven of the biggest names on the entry list withdrew before the opening bell.

The likes of Kelly Harrington, Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, James McGivern, Gabriel Dossen, Michael Nevin, and Dean Gardiner were all missing from the first round draw despite being on the original entry list.

With the majority of the absent names being fighters deemed to be in pole position with regard to the Olympic qualifiers set for London and March a host across the boxing family cried foul.

There some were suggesting certain fighters were being protected from potential domestic upset. Others queried whether or not certain fighters were on a training scheduled for peaking in March- schedules that the Elites didn’t tie into – while other conspiracies were put forward.

However, all complaints revolved around the fact the tournament had been built as a crucial week for Irish boxing, with spots on the team for the Olympic Qualifiers on the line – indeed, the championships had been brought forward from February 2020 to fit this timeline. However, with so much talent missing, many Olympic questions were not answered.

Speaking during the finals on Friday, Dunne confirmed that the High Performance had no agenda with regard to the pull outs. The former world champion and now High Performance Director revealed all seven were injured or ill and as a result couldn’t fight.

“For us the National Elite Championships are a great asset to have. They are the jewel in the crown of Irish boxing. We have had seven withdrawals from the Championships, but five of those have had major operations and they are on their return to play, so the National Elite Championships fell at the wrong time for their return,” Dunne explained – without specifying who had undergone surgery.

“They are not fit enough to compete in the Championships. That’s unfortunate, but it’s something we have to deal with going forward.”

People have questioned the High Performance’s desire with regard to placing certain names into the contest, but Dunne points out he and the those involved would love nothing more than the best to be able to showcase their talents.

“These are all top quality athletes that ideally you would have in the National Championships showing what they can do here, shown on TG4, and everyone getting to see what they can do at home.”

“We want to showcase Irish boxing, we want people to see the talent we have, but it’s an issue we have to deal with. If the athletes are injured, they’re injured, we can’t be thrown them into fights they are not ready for.”

Dunne was non-committal with regard to public box-offs between new champions and those deemed #1 at the weight, but confirm those who impressed last week are now in the conversation.

“They have definitely put themselves forward. Winning a National title is the best way to get yourself noticed and to get yourself into the driving seat to be the #1, but when you have athletes that are injured and out of the competition, we have to got include that.”

“There is a very clear selection policy that was brought in by the IABA and like any progressive thinking organisation they are looking at ways of making selection better.”

The selection policy is, in reality, extremely unclear.

Decisions are made by Dunne, HPU head coach Zaur Antia, and the other HPU coaches – with a representative of the IABA being involved in the selection panel but without voting rights.

Selection is determined by the following, non-exhaustive, list of factors (in no particular order) –

  • National/World Ranking
  • Form
  • International performances over past two years
  • Behaviour and conduct at events.
  • Potential
  • Head-to-head performances
  • Training and performances
  • Fitness
  • Injury status
  • Weight status
  • Attitude and commitment towards HPU
  • Ability to work alongside others in HPU
  • Ability to follow HPU guidance
  • “In good standing with the IABA”

It would seem unlikely that box-offs will be called – although they will certainly be pushed for by many parties.

Assessments behind closed doors in the HPU were used to determine the teams for recent major championships and it would seem like this will be the case again for the London and Paris qualifiers.

The HPU have been provided a mandate to qualify boxers for major tournaments and can select fighters in whichever way they see fit – however the clear detachment from the national championships and an apparent unwillingness for public box-offs have led to many questioning the transparency of the process.


Jonny Stapleton contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: