The National Elite Championships are back. A busy weekend awaits with semi-final and final places in one of the strongest tournaments in recent years up for grabs at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road.
There are plenty of quality fights to take in but we’ve picked seven that we feel stand out for differing reasons.
54kg Jennifer Lehane (DCU Athletic) V Chloe Gabriel (Mulhuddart)
The party begins in style, as this year’s tournament opens with an intriguing and potentially very entertaining fight.
Its reigning number 1 at the Olympic weight that is 54kg, Jennifer Lehane against the current U-22 Chloe Gabriel.
School teacher Lehane is the reigning champion and has emerged as a genuine Olympic hope. The DCU Athletic boxer represented Ireland at the European Games, a tournament that doubled up as an Olympic qualifier, in June. She didn’t qualify for Paris but is in pole position to be sent to the two qualifiers set for 2024.
Mulhuddart’s Gabriel will look to begin an overtaking maneuver on Friday as she bids to become number 1 at the weight. The European Junior gold medal winner, who lost the 52kg National Elite final at the last installment, more than likely had LA and 2028 as her Olympic goal but will attempt a late Paris dash.
It’s two quality operators in as high a stakes semi-final as you’ll find, you can’t get much better than that.
57kg Paul Loonam (St Carthages) V Dylan Eagleson (St Pauls
One fight that could be more anticipated is the bout that follows Lehane versus Gabriel, Paul Loonam against Dylan Eagleson.
The reigning champion and European under-22 medal winner begins his defence against a European silver and Commonwealth gold medal winner who moves into the weight to make his Olympic move at the last opportunity.
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 installment of Irish boxing’s Blue Ribbon tournament is and how tough the battle for featherweight supremacy will be.
71kg Jon McConnell (Holy Trinity) V Dean Walsh (St Ibars/Josephs)
57kg’s fellow Olympic weight of 71kg is equally anticipated and also serves up international class prelims.
Jon McConnell versus Dean Walsh is a repeat of the last Elite installment’s tense light middleweight final. Wexford’s Walsh, who had defeated Olympian Aidan Walsh in the semis, ensured a happy ending to his redemption story by claiming victory. The experienced era-spanning decorated fighter proceeded to cement his status as number 1 at the weight and was back in an Irish vest at the European Games.
If anyone is capable of extinguishing Walsh’s Olympic dream it’s emerging talent McConnell. The 21-year-old is seen as one for the future but will want it all now. The latest talent off the Holy Trinity production line is a confident kid and has proved he can be competitive against the reigning champion.
71kg Eugene McKeever (Holy Family L) V Wayne Kelly (Ballynacargy)
There is something beautifully old-school about this pairing. Two faces regularly seen in the later stages of the Elites facing off in a hard-to-call battle of experienced operators.
The decorated pair have history, although the fact it takes place at light middle gives it something of a fresh feel.
It’s also a repeat of the 2021 final, which McKeever won to launch himself onto the international scene. The Holy Family boxer, who also beat Laois’s Kelly in the 2022 semis, has since appeared in the European Championships and Commonwealth Games.
International status was something previously held by the talented Kelly, who fights out of his father’s Ballynacargy club, and one he will want back. The fact it plays out at 71kg makes it a little more interesting as both look to make an impact at an Olympic weight.
50kg Caitlin Fryers (Immaculata) V Shannon Sweeney (St Annes)
It’s European Championship medal winner versus European Championship medal winner in one of two mouthwatering 50kg semi-finals.
Caitlin Fryers and Shannon Sweeney is another international-level fight at domestic level. It’s also another semi-final with a lot at stake especially considering it plays out in a talent-packed Olympic weight. The Belfast and Mayo fighters have never fought but no doubt have sparred with the High Performance and will know each other well.
It’s a fantastic final-four fight that has fight followers excited as is Daina Moorehouse versus Niamh Early in the other semi at the weight.
66kg Kaci Rock (Enniskerry) V Grainne Walsh (St Marys D)
The Irish fight fraternity’s disappointment at hearing Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke had pulled out of this year’s National Elite 66kg tournament was lessened somewhat when the draw threw up a fight between Kaci Rock and Graine Walsh.
It’s a battle of the two most recent champions at the weight.
European Games and EU Championships bronze medal winner, Walsh is the reigning champion having defeated Amy Broadhurst in the most recent decider. Reigning U22 champion, Rock, who has senior International experience of her own, lifted the title in 2021.