It’s National Elite Championship Finals week.
The most anticipated night on the Irish boxing calendar plays out on the South Circular Road on Saturday night.
As ever, the premier night of the premier Irish boxing tournament has got chins wagging and Irish the fight family talking.
We here at Irish-boxing.com take a look at some of the talking points that stood out to us.
HISTORY IS WRITTEN BY THE VICTORS
Both Michaela Walsh and Kellie Harrington can write their names into the Irish boxing history books with victory on Saturday.
If the much-decorated world-class duo have their hand raised at the famous venue on the biggest night in the Irish boxing calendar they will become the only 11-time Irish Elite Champions.
The Paris 2024 Olympic qualified boxers both joined Jim O’Sullivan and Kenneth Egan on 10 titles in the last National Elites installment and both can break the record this weekend.
Standing between Belfast Walsh’s and history is Kellie McLoughlin, who she faces in the featherweight decider, while Olympic gold medal winner Harrington will have to defeat Zara Breslin for the second tournament running in the lightweight final to make it a sensational 11 Elite crowns.
It will be interesting to see the running order for the night as it may decide who becomes the first to break the record.
Just like there is more up for grabs than an Irish title for the stars of the sport, Harrington and Walsh, in the form of history there could be more than silverware on the line for those competing at the Olympic weights.
Team Ireland have five already qualified for Paris – Jack Marley, Aoife O’Rourke, Harrington, Walsh and Dean Clancy – meaning there are Olympic spots to be filled at EIGHT weights.
Ireland will send the eight boxers to the first of two remaining Olympic qualifiers early next year meaning a host of fighters across the Olympic weight classes are vying for #1 in Ireland’s spot.
That in turn adds massive spice and significance to the men’s flyweight, featherweight, light middleweight, light heavyweight and super heavyweight finals as well as the light flyweight, bantamweight and welterweight deciders in the female side of the draw.
IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS WIN AND YOUR IN
Winning an Irish title can only help with regard to becoming #1 at your weight in a country packed with talent. However, as with every Olympic cycle, it’s not as simple as win and you’re in.
The path to Irish #1 is harder and more nuanced than ever. Such is the pool of talent – and such is the High Performance approach – domestic tournament victory isn’t an international guarantee.
Zaur Antia and his team take other factors into account when selecting who they feel will be best suited to international competition, so there will be debate and behind-closed-doors test matches before the next Olympic Qualifier team is selected.
There will also be room left for injured fighters to try and impress. The likes of Lisa O’Rourke and Amy Broadhurst potentially be given a chance to state a 66kg claim regardless of who wins Saturday’s final between Grainne Walsh and Christina Desmond, while the same could be said of Aidan Walsh at 71kg.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE OLYMPIC REALM
The excitement and interest surrounding the finals outside of the Olympic realm as well as the commitment to win said titles proves that the 2024 National Elite Championships are far from just Paris precusser.
There are storylines across the weights and talented fighters in each division. The quality of any given final is reliant on the weight being attached to Paris, nor does a title win mean more in an Olympic weight.
IRISH TITLE STOCK RETURNS TO FORMER HIGH
There is a real sense the Irish title has made a comeback this year. The final tournament of an Olympic cycle lost its place as the unrivalled king of fight nights in recent years.
The fact reigning #1’s would pull out after entering really detracted from the competition. Not only did the move, which some suggest was influenced by the powers that be, leave a sour taste and stick two fingers up to the amateur ethos, it cheapened the meaning of an Elite Crown.
The IABA put in a ‘sick note’ rule discouraging that practice this year and it’s led to some of the most competitive divisions in recent years.
It also has to be noted the fact that the already Olympic-qualified Harrington, Walsh, Aoife O’Rourke and Jack Marley have also entered has proved a shot in the arm for the health of the tournament and National Champion status.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT FINALS NIGHT
Saturday will be special but don’t sleep on Friday.
The remainder of the semi-finals will be contested at the only purpose-built boxing venue in the world 24 hours before Finals Night.
Among them are two mouthwatering featherweight final-four clashes. Four National Elite Champions will battle it out to reach the decider as Jude Gallagher and Dylan Eagleson face off and Davey Joyce and Adam Hession trade leather in the 57kg semis.
Gallagher versus Eagleson is a meeting of two recent Commonwealth Games teammates and gold medallist. The ultimate clash of styles as one of Eddie Hearn’s favourite amateurs takes on a European silver medalist who comes into the fight after victory over reigning champion Paul Loonam.
Hession, a former champion at the weight with International medals of his own has been away in Armenia as he looks to keep his Olympic dream alive and takes on the dark horse of the competition in Davey Joyce, a reigning champion, who previously explored pro options, moves down to the weight trying to gatecrash the Olympic party.
The anticipation surrounding this year’s National Elite super heavyweight final clash is as big as its two giant participants.
Illia Mtsariashvili and Martin McDonagh will fight for the 92kg Irish title at the home of Irish boxing on Saturday night and it’s a match-up that has the fight fraternity very excited.
There are bigger names competing on the biggest night on the amateur calendar and more glamourous match-ups but the super heavyweight pair have been two of the stories of the tournament.
Mtsariashvili is a Georgian who has found a boxing home in Dublin Docklands and has made a real impression in the two months he’s been at the club. The 23-year-old giant came to the tournament with real pedigree considering he was previously the number one super heavy in Georgia, the home country of High Performance boss Zaur Anita.
McDonagh has risen impressively through the levels since taking up boxing two years ago. He has collected Novice, Under-22 and Senior [formerly Intermediate] titles before he’s had 10 fights – and is now one win from taking the biggest domestic amateur title of all.
Elite Finals weekend has a few moments usually associated with Senior action, the kind that can be heartwarming or remind you that it is indeed an amateur tournament.
The chance for Carol Coughlan to finally get over the title line after years of trying is one, the return of Ciara Ginty after years out is another, the fact Senior show stealer Eamonn Tighe gets his rematch with Wayne Rafferty another of many.
The fact James Redmond goes from defeating Vadym Ustimov of St Francis in the semi-final to facing the Limerick-based fighter’s twin brother Vitali Ustimov in the decider is one of those scenarios that can only be served by amateur boxing.