'Loose lips sink ships': Harrington with cryptic message after Irish ring return

Kellie Harrington made a victorious return to an Irish ring with victory over Zara Breslin at the Irish Elite Championships tonight. Picture by Hugh Russell
Kellie Harrington made a victorious return to an Irish ring with victory over Zara Breslin at the Irish Elite Championships tonight. Picture by Hugh Russell

KELLIE Harrington enjoyed a victorious homecoming at the National Stadium tonight as she fought on Irish soil for the first time since landing Olympic gold in Tokyo.

The 33-year-old didn’t have to get out of second gear against a game Zara Breslin, controlling the bout from start to finish on the way to collecting her 10th Irish title.

Predictably, Dubliner Harrington – who landed European gold back in October - was mobbed as she walked up the stadium steps, with an army of autograph-hunters patiently waiting to greet their hero.

But Harrington wasn’t in the mood for talking to waiting media members, leaving them only with a cryptic message - “I’ve got loads of words, but there’s a saying… ‘loose lips sink ships’.”

The other big winners on the night were the Holy Family club from Drogheda, who came away with four from four courtesy of light-fly Ricky Nesbitt, Christopher O’Reilly, lightweight Davy Joyce and Mullaghbawn’s Eugene McKeever, who successfully defended his 67kg title.

There was disappointment for west Belfast’s Caitlin Fryers, however, as she sought to hold on to her 50 kilo crown, the European silver medallist losing out on a unanimous decision to Daina Moorehouse.

It was a heroic performance from the Enniskerry pocket rocket, who looked as though she could be forced out of the contest when a rolled ankle left her on the canvas at the halfway point of the second. Despite wincing through the pain while being examined by the doctor, she somehow wrestled back control after Fryers looked to have taken the first round.

And as the Immaculata ace poured forward, it was Moorehouse who landed the more eye-catching shots to convince the judges it was her hand that should be raised.

The light-middleweight final between Jon McConnell and Dean Walsh was thrill-a-minute stuff, with Walsh – shock conqueror of Olympic bronze medallist Aidan Walsh the night before – coming out the right side of a 4-1 split decision.

Holy Trinity ace McConnell, who has moved up two weight divisions in pursuit of his Olympic dream, was brilliant at times, edging the first and playing the matador in the first half of a superb second round, only for Walsh to pile on the pressure.

And with so much riding on the final round, Walsh just kept coming, with some blistering exchanges leaving the judges with a tough decision to make. McConnell still looked to have done enough in those first two rounds, but the judges saw it differently.

Commonwealth Games gold medallist Dylan Eagleson returned to the ring for the first time since Birmingham, and had to shake off some rust on the way to unanimous decision win over Jorge Rogla Castanno from Corinthians.

The 19-year-old didn’t have it all his own way against the Spaniard, but Eagleson’s class told when it counted. And, having just bounced back from the flu, the European silver medallist insists there are bigger and better things to come in 2023.

Earlier in the night, Eagleson’s Commonwealth Games team-mate Nicole Clyde claimed her first Irish elite title and buried the disappointment of Birmingham as she edged Mulhuddart’s Chloe Gabriel, 3-2, in the 52kg final.

Although not at an Olympic weight, Davy Joyce and Jason Nevin served up a barnstormer at 60kg – with the explosive Joyce claiming the crown on a 4-1 decision.

Both came flying out of the traps but it was Joyce who edged most of the exchanges against a tall, awkward opponent. He came on strong in the second too, a left counter forcing Nevin – who had 2008 Olympian John Joe Joyce in his corner - to take a standing count midway through the round.

Olympic, Mullingar’s Nevin started the third strong but tired, Joyce holding enough in reserve to see out the job.

One of the evening’s more curious decisions came in the men’s middleweight decider, where Christopher O’Reilly took a 3-2 split over Joshua Olaniyan. Jobstown teenager Olaniyan looked to have done enough, boxing on the back foot and landing the cleaner, classier shots but the judges saw it otherwise.

Tyrone’s Jude Gallagher, ruled out of these championships with a hand injury sustained in November’s Tammer tournament, will have been an interested spectator as Paul Loonam got the better of Sean Purcell to claim the 57kg title.

Loonam, who shocked defending champion Adam Hession in the semi-final on Friday night, carried on where he left with a sharp display to claim a unanimous decision win.

In one of the first fights of the night, Ricky Nesbitt got Holy Family, Drogheda off to a winning start when he edged Belfast’s Padraig Downey (St John Bosco) to claim the light-fly title, but it wasn’t to be for Gilford super-heavy William John McCartan against Irish international Gytis Lisinskas.

After landing a maiden Ulster title last month, and booking his place in tonight’s final with victory over Daniel Fakoyede, McCartan gave it plenty but eventually a bad cut forced referee Barry Tucker to stop the contest in the second round.

There was disappointment for Newry banger Kane Tucker, who broke his right hand in the first round of Friday night’s cruiserweight semi-final win over Kyle Roche, forcing him out of tonight’s final against Smithfield’s Dmytro Olinyk.

It comes as a huge blow to Tucker, who had only returned to the ring after suffering the same injury when winning last year’s Irish U22 Championships.

Another of the night’s most eagerly-anticipated contests also fell by the wayside after a nasty cut picked up in Friday’s semi-final clash with Aaron O’Donoghue left Brandon McCarthy unable to defend his light-welterweight crown.

He had been due to face Sligo’s Dean Clancy – who beat Star’s JP Hale in the semi-final - in a mouth-watering clash, and no doubt the pair will renew acquaintances further down the line.