1 March 2011 – Steve Wellings
There was no doubting the biggest story of the 2011 Irish Elite Championships, as 17-year-old Joe Ward ripped up the form guide and denied Kenneth Egan an 11th consecutive light-heavyweight title. Ward excited the vociferous crowd, packed inside a roasting National Stadium, to defeat the 2008 Olympic silver medalist by a score of 11-6. In truth Egan looked listless throughout the contest and was bullied and bruised by the strength and aggressive determination of his vastly less experienced opponent. The Moate rookie may have been a little raw in the technical department but his desire was never in question.
Ward took the first round 2-1 as Egan lacked his usual accuracy. In fact, the Neilstown native struggled all night with a head guard problem with referee Sadie Duffy motioning him to the corner on numerous occasions to have the string retied. These untimely interruptions further served to disrupt Egans rhythm but he did land some nice shots to open up a one point advantage by the close of the second round. Ward upped the ante in the third round and dropped the seriously tiring multiple champion with a sweet left hook. Four more points were deducted from Egan during the duration of the bout for various infringements and the seemingly exhausted former champion took his loss with dignity.
“The more the crowd get behind me, the better I box, said a delighted Ward post-fight. I always knew I could beat Egan and my dream came true tonight. Im aiming for the world championships and then London [Olympics 2012] hopefully; Ill be nearly 19 and even stronger then.”
Despite having long written his name into the history books, Kenneth Egan was understandably upset over the defeat. “It’s heartbreaking after winning ten in a row,” he said, “but Joes very strong and the best man won. It was a close fight with pressure on both of us. I’m going back to Miami [for the World Series of Boxing tournament] and will take things from there. Its not over for me yet.”
It is usual at these championships that a real star emerges from the growing pack of talent. Step forward 2008 European bronze medalist Ross Hickey. The Grangecon southpaw earned a 14-4 decision over Crumlins Phillip Sutcliffe in a barnstorming contest that probably didn’t do Sutcliffes efforts justice by the lopsided scoreline. Hard hitting ‘Succo’ looks a professional boxer in the making; shuffling forward and preparing to unload at every possible opportunity. Unfortunately for him he was up against a classy mover who kept his discipline and maintained a tight defence before flashing in combinations to snatch valuable points. Round one produced a 3-3 tie, both men landed cleanly, it was nip and tuck and the quality levels were high. In the second round Sutcliffe paid the price for rushing in head first as Hickey picked him off to force a standing count. Sutcliffe, who had bettered Anthony Upton to reach the final, suffered again in the third and was counted following a well-placed Hickey counter shot. Ross used his speed and skills to shut the bout down and the expulsion Phil Sutcliffe Senior from ringside only exacerbated the woes of the frustrated Crumlin team.
I had high hopes for the Darren ONeill-Jason Quigley 75kg final. As it turned out, there were few fireworks as southpaw ONeill (Paulstown) perfectly used the range and his array of skills to blunt the raw enthusiasm of Finn Valleys Quigley. Well supported Jason enjoyed a raucous following and loaded up on the big right hands as he sought to overcome a 5-1 deficit. ONeills tight defence was breached on a couple of occasions in the closing round but Darren was good value for his 7-4 win. ONeill later paid tribute to his corner team before admitting that the silver medal he achieved in Moscow at the 2010 European championships has taken his game on to another level.
Olympic bronze medalist (Beijing 2008) Paddy Barnes underlined his class when claiming a routine fifth successive senior trophy. Even though opponent on the night Evan Metcalfe of Crumlin BC gave his all throughout the contest, Barnes was always in control and boxed his way home to another 49kg victory. Youthful Metcalfe was game for a scrap but found himself getting picked off by Barnes who glided in and out of range, altering the tempo at will. Evan bulled forward in the third round but Paddy reeled off some vicious ripostes to rouse the interest of the fans. The Holy Family man took a resounding 9-1 win and stated post-fight that he was closing in on Kenneth Egans ten senior titles record. He also praised the endeavor of his young opponent, who can improve under the watchful eye of Phil Sutcliffe and his team.
Michael Conlan (St. John Bosco) made up for the disappointment of losing in the Ulster senior finals recently as he claimed his first Irish Elite crown (52kg). His opponent on the night, Chris Phelan of Ryston, was participating in his first senior tournament, having eliminated 2009 flyweight king Declan Geraghty in the semi-final. Chris came to give it a go and sailed into a 5-1 lead after the first session. Conlan used his snaking left lead to open the way for points-stealing combinations as he swept the second round 6-1 to open a two point advantage. Michael employed his skills and elusive moves to close the show out 11-7.
In the 91kg showdown Clonmels Con Sheehan showed good mobility for a big lad as he blunted the attacks of Patrick Corcoran (Olympic). Honours were even at 2-2 after round one and the crowd groaned and sighed during round two as some meaty shots from Corcoran failed to register. He was two points down when the bell sounded for the third round and Sheehan took the last stanza 5-1 with some well placed flurries. The promising heavyweight appears to have a bright future.
David Oliver Joyce is no stranger to a senior tear-up (as former rival Carl Frampton would certainly attest) and the St. Michaels Athy pugilist was eager to engage with St. Marys mover Michael McDonagh. His title challenge ended in ignominy, however, when David Oliver was disqualified in the final session for a low blow. Joyces style is not dissimilar to Framptons, the way he maintains a high guard and rolls forward, slamming in right hooks to the torso is impressive. McDonagh elected to navigate the circumference of the ring in round one, picking and pawing while conceding every inch of ground and losing the round 2-0.
It was seemingly a routine nights work for Joyce until his fleet footed adversary decided to stand and trade in the second round. McDonagh suddenly showed that as well as being a gifted sprinter he could also box a bit too and started to recapture the sort of form that saw him beat defending lightweight king Eric Donovan to book his final spot. In the third round, an increasingly frustrated Joyce was becoming wayward with his shots and the 2009 EU gold medalist offered McDonagh a thorough testicular inspection with a crunching hook below the waist line. The red vested man rolled around on the canvas for several seconds before rising with a grimace on his face, prompting the referee to call a halt and disqualify Joyce. David Oliver was none too happy, patrolling the ring and growling before ripping off his headguard and gloves.
Holy Family starlet Tyrone McCullagh was unable to emulate the success of his gym mate Paddy Barnes with the youngster being comprehensively handled by talented former Olympic representative John Joe Nevin, at 56kg. McCullagh pawed with a portside jab that was intended to dissuade Nevin more than punish him. Tyrone tried hard and motored forward until the last but the experienced Cavan native was slick and clever. Nevin used his class to control the pace and rack up points; punishing McCullagh often enough to see through a 5-2 championship win.
Surprise package Adam Nolan outpointed St Saviours representative Karl Brabazon 13-4 in their 69kg affair. The pair paid little heed to the old boxing adage that two southpaws make for a dull fight as they met in centre ring for a good old fashioned battle. Brabazons tight defence was loosening up by the end of the opener as he tried to claw back a 3-0 deficit. Lanky Nolan was making use of his long reach and the Bray boxer whipped in his shots effectively, leaving red vested Karl with a mountain to climb on the scorecards. Returning former champion Brabazon had shocked John Joe Joyce to reach the final and he rallied in the last round, but Nolan held firm and was a worthy winner at 13-4.
Going on last were the two big boys, Cathal McMonagle (Holy Trinity) versus Kenneth Okungbowa (Athlone). Muscular Okungbowa had made his intentions clear at the pre-fight introductions when he met McMonagle with a cold stare. He started fast and took the first round by a 3-1 score. McMonagle has a wealth of super-heavyweight experience and used his ring smarts to drag himself into the contest and claim the 91kg+ crown via a 12-5 total.
In the only female contest of the evening Drimnaghs Sinead Kavanagh beat Patricia Roddy of Bray 13-4 to deservedly take the 75kg award. In a fight filled with clinches and unclean work, Kavanagh was more economical with her output and used her jab well to keep Roddy who lost her cool towards the end- at arms length.
As usual, a rapturous reception greeted the immensely popular Katie Taylor to the ring as she accepted her 60kg prize via walkover. The Bray girl was also rightly lauded for having claimed four European, three world and three EU championships so far during her illustrious career.