Boxing

Seconds Out: All-Ulster battles take centre stage at U18 championships

John McConnell with Holy Trinity coach Michael Hawkins
Neil Loughran

THERE are some cracking all-Ulster fights up for decision in the Irish U18 Championships this weekend – with the Belfast battle between John O’Connell and Thomas McCann taking centre stage.

The lightweight pair have never met before but will go toe-to-toe in Friday night’s quarter-final at the National Stadium after both impressed in their preliminary round bouts to reach the last eight.

McConnell - who won a European Youth bronze medal in 2018 - took Celtic Box Cup gold back in September and faced a familiar foe in his opening bout in Dublin on Friday when paired with Eoghan Quinn (St John’s, Derry).

The following night the Holy Trinity ace had too much for Culainn Sheedy (St Mary’s, Dublin), getting the nod from all the judges again to set up a showdown with McCann.

“It looks a great fight,” said McConnell’s coach Michael Hawkins.

“We’ve been keeping John busy, but he’s a great trainer anyway – he works hard, he enjoys the game so much, and he lives the life.

“John and Eoghan have fought quite a few times through the years, and Eoghan Quinn was more than capable of beating everybody else in the tournament, it was just unfortunate they were drawn together in the first fight.

“Even the IABA president, Dominic O’Rourke, came to me and said what a good fight it was. But now he has Tomas who was very good, he fought very well.

“We’re hoping this will be a big year for John. If he wins the Irish title, then he’s going to the Europeans, and that opens the door for the Worlds later in the year. But, like everything, it’s one step at a time - control the controllables.

“All it takes is one setback to knock the whole thing off, so he has to win this fight.”

McCann, meanwhile, is in confident mood after seeing off Togher’s Joe O’Brien, and St Paul’s coach Ralph McKay expects a tough, tactical bout.

“Tomas is boxing out of his skin and full of confidence,” he said.

“He was sparring the likes of Eoghan Quinn over Christmas, and this has the makings of a great fight.”

On the other side of the 60kg draw, Ballymun’s Cain Lewis showcased his potential with victory over Ballyduff’s Barry O’Connor (Ballyduff) 5-0 and looks one to watch heading into his semi-final against Adam Sinnott (Rathnew).

Lying in wait for either McConnell or McCann could be the talented Cahir Gormley, who boxes out of Illies GG. He faces Nathan O’Brien (Wexford CBS) on Friday.

Another St Paul’s, Belfast prospect will be between the ropes when light-flyweight Dylan Eagleson faces John Joyce from Mullingar’s successful Olympic club in Saturday night’s semi-final.

Joyce has won All-Ireland titles when coming through the ranks but Eagleson has long been touted as a talent worth keeping an eye on, landing back-to-back Irish cadet titles and representing his country at last year’s European Junior Championships.

Now up at 49kg, another intriguing bout lies in wait.

“That’s another great fight in store – it’s an exciting week for the club coming up and all at the club are looking forward to the weekend,” said McKay.

Letterkenny light-fly Paddy McShane is also in action when he takes on Cian O’Toole (St David’s, Naas).

At 56kg, meanwhile, is the semi-final meeting of Gleann’s Martin McCullough and Chad Magill of Glengormley.

McCullough was too slick and strong for Gilford’s Daire Halfpenny before taking a 4-1 split against highly-rated Suffie Edris (Monkstown, Dublin) in their quarter-final.

Magill, though, will be a tough nut to crack, as he showed in victory over Emerald’s Bailey Marshall before stopping Leon Davis (Bracken) in the second round of their quarter-final contest.

In the 69kg division, Ulster pair Liam McMonagle (Raphoe) and Emeka Onwuka (All Saints) advanced to the last four. Both will be in semi-final action on January 24, with McMonagle facing James Whelan (Dublin Docklands) after accounting for Josh Cummins (Trinity Sports) on a 4-1 split.

Onwuka faces a tough task against Crumlin’s 11-time Irish champion and European gold medallist William Hayden.

Tyrone middleweight Tiernan Mayse (Two Castles) received a walkover last weekend, and now prepares for a semi-final date with Patrick Lawlor (Brian Dillon’s). Monkstown’s Frank Duffin came out the right side of a 3-2 split against Max Dushyk to set up a last four clash with Eoghan Lavin (Ballyhaunis) – also on January 24.

At 51kg, Antrim’s Nicole Clyde will face Rachel Lawless (Portlaoise) on Saturday, with a final spot against either Chloe Gabriel (Mulhuddart) or Chanelle Robinson (Tipperary Town) up for grabs.

At welterweight, Raphoe’s European Youth bronze medallist Leah Gallen is up against Dominika Gulli (Bracken), with Crumlin’s Shelby Myers awaiting the winner on January 31.

The Irish Athletic Boxing Association is using as part of their selection process for the European Youth Championships in Budva, Montenegro in April.

******************

Reigning Irish champion Michaela Walsh is the featherweight pick on the Ireland squad that heads to Bulgaria next week. Picture by PA

IRISH BOXERS READY TO SHOWCASE SKILLS IN SOFIA

WITH the European Olympic Qualifier in London just two months away, Ireland’s elite boxers will have the opportunity to push their case at the upcoming Strandja Multi-Nations Tournament in Bulgaria.

A 20-strong male and female squad travel to Sofia later this week, with the competition getting under way on Tuesday, January 21 as the countdown to Tokyo 2020 continues.

Two boxers are being sent at several weights, though only Tyrone’s Jude Gallagher goes at 52kg, while Monkstown’s Michaela Walsh is the sole pick at 57kg.

European Games champion Kurt Walker and European Elite queen Aoife O’Rourke line out at feather and middle, while former World Elite lightweight champion Kellie Harrington returns from a hand injury.

It will be her first competitive outing since the European Games in Belarus last June.

Irish Athletic Boxing Association High Performance director Bernard Dunne has previously said, in the wake of the Irish Elite Championships at the end of last year, that public box-offs are a possibility.

Harrington against Dundalk’s Amy Broadhurst is one that has been mooted, with Ceire Smith and Carly McNaul – who are both Bulgaria-bound – another.

Belfast’s Aidan Walsh goes alongside welterweight rival Kieran Molloy, with both eager to catch the eye – although the Monkstown man holds the upper hand after defeating Molloy at the Irish Elites.

Irish squad

Female

51kg: C Smith (Cavan)/C McNaul (Holy Family)

57kg: M Walsh (Monkstown, Antrim)

60kg: K Harrington (St Mary’s)/A Broadhurst (Dealgan)

69kg: C Desmond (Fr Horgan’s)/G Walsh (Spartacus)

75kg: A O’Rourke (Castlerea)

Male

52kg: J Gallagher (Two Castles)

57kg: K Walker (Canal) and Dean Clancy (Sean McDermott)

63kg: G Bates (St Mary’s) and Wayne Kelly (Portlaoise)

69kg: A Walsh (Monkstown, Antrim) and Kieran Molloy (Oughterard)

75kg: M Nevin (Portlaoise)

81kg: E Brennan (Dublin Docklands)

91kg: K Afanasev (Smithfield)

91kg+: K Ogunbowa (Athlone)/A O’Griofa (Celtic Eagles)

High Performance director: B Dunne

Coaches: Z Antia, J Conlan, D Dimitruk, E Pluck

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Boxing