Ulster Hall hails Hale and Murphy once more after final fight classic

Diarmuid Toland (Holy Family) lands a right hand on Cookstown's Craig Bigger en route to the Ulster Elite light-flyweight title. Picture by Philip Walsh
Diarmuid Toland (Holy Family) lands a right hand on Cookstown's Craig Bigger en route to the Ulster Elite light-flyweight title. Picture by Philip Walsh

Amateur boxing: Ulster Elite Championship finals

FOR the second year in-a-row, John Paul Hale and Colm Murphy brought the Ulster Hall to its feet with a thrilling bantamweight barnstormer finale – and again it was Hale who had his hand raised at the end of three brilliant, at times brutal rounds.

The two 20-year-olds – close friends away from the ring – faced off in the last fight of the Ulster Elite Championship finals, and they more than justified their top billing, neither giving an inch.

Murphy was typically relentless, using his jab to good effect at times and stepping to the side before winging in shots to the body, but Hale wasn’t deterred.

The Star man has a real throwback style, content to plant his feet and throw huge hooks from the waist, with some big lefts landing flush on Murphy’s jaw. And where the St George’s ace had to haul himself off the canvas last year, he was going nowhere last night, constantly meeting fire with fire as everybody inside the packed venue drew breath.

When it went to the judges, you couldn’t have argued with either getting the decision – and again it was Hale, this time winning on a 4-1 split, leaving fans eagerly awaiting the next instalment of this all-Belfast rivalry.

“We’ve fought each other four times, and every time we fight we give it our all. Outside the ring we’re best mates,” said Hale.

“He was definitely throwing more punches but I was throwing the cleaner punches… it was a brilliant fight. Last year gave me so much motivation to win again, it’s class to do it here, unreal.

“We’ll definitely be fighting again soon – I’ve big respect for him.”

The Tucker brothers are unlikely to forget February 25, 2020 in a hurry either after both returned home to Newry as Ulster champions last night.

In the 81kg decider, 19-year-old Kane Tucker needed only a minute to get the job done, a huge right hand leaving the brave Gareth McDowell in trouble, the referee giving the Eastside man a standing count before waving the fight off.

“I don’t even remember hitting him to be honest – you practice in the gym and it just becomes habit, and you see what happens,” said Tucker.

“I wasn’t taking anything for granted, I knew he was a strong enough lad, I didn’t go in looking for it; I boxed and knew it would come. Thankfully it did.”

Younger sibling Jake had a much tougher assignment in his first fight as an elite boxer, sharing the ring with the experienced Gerard French.

Eighteen-year-old Tucker landed a lovely right hand over the top of a French jab early in the first but his Emerald club-mate came on strong towards the end of the round, and landed a classy double jab at the start of the second to seize the early initiative.

But Tucker kept his cool and got his own jab going to impressive effect, using it to set up a cracking right hand with French on the ropes before catching his smaller opponent with two uppercuts as the round drew to a close.

French came on strong in the third, the double jab again bringing some success. It was Tucker who finished the stronger though, the judges giving him the decision on a 3-2 split.

It was bombs away in the super-heavy showdown between Patrick Rogers (St John’s, Derry) and Denis Boriskins of Sacred Heart, Newry, both landing big shots during a hard-hitting three rounds.

It was Rogers who did the more eye-catching work though, a couple of huge uppercuts rocking Boriskins to his boots as the Slaughtneil man – a brother of Derry footballer Brendan – claimed his first Ulster Elite title.

“I can’t even put words on it,” he said.

“Two broken hands in two years, I’d just had the cast off last year and the same before. I always felt I could do well, and now I’ve done it at a packed Ulster Hall in front of friends, family. It’s unbelievable.

“I’m the only Slaughtneil man to ever win an Ulster title for Swatragh.”

Eugene McKeever made it back-to-back welterweight titles after a tough, tactical battle with Donegal’s Matthew McCole.

The Illies GG man boxed beautifully at times, inviting McKeever on and landing swift, sharp combinations, but the Mullaghbawn man didn’t get frustrated and scored with some heavy shots of his own on the way to a 4-1 split decision win.

It was a night to remember for Holy Family too after the north Belfast club went home with a hat-trick of Ulster Elite titles courtesy of victories for Sionan McKenna, Diarmuid Toland and Rory Lavery.

McKenna took the 54kg title with a classy display against the tough Clodagh McComiskey. Gilford fighter McComiskey started strongly, imposing her will on McKenna in the first round, but the Holy Family woman went back to basics in the second and third, boxing beautifully off her jab and evading McComiskey’s attacks to take the win.

Toland, meanwhile, followed in the footsteps of club greats Hugh Russell and Paddy Barnes when he beat Cookstown’s Craig Bigger to land the light-fly title. The Lurgan man was presented with the cup by the man who beat him in a barnstorming semi-final last year – Jack O’Neill.

It was Toland’s sharper work that won him in the fight, controlling the distance and landing crisp jabs throughout to keep the bigger Bigger at bay as he tried to pile on the pressure.

“I know Craig likes to come forward, he’s a strong puncher, so I just stuck to my boxing and that’s what got me through. I was happy enough with the performance,” he said.

“I fell just short last year, beat in the semi-final on a split decision by the eventual winner, so I came out tonight on top so I’m happy.”

The lightweight contest between Lavery and Holy Trinity’s Mosa Kambule finished in unfortunate circumstances after just a round of action.

Warrenpoint man Lavery looked the stronger in the first round, despite being caught with a big right straight from the bell, but picked up a nasty looking gash to his right cheekbone as a result of a head clash just as the fight was warming up.

Ringside doctor Michael McKenna signalled that the fight shouldn’t continue, with Lavery taking the title on the basis of winning the only round of the fight.

There was no clean sweep for Holy Family on the night, however, with Michel Erpelding losing out to defending champion Karol ‘Krusher’ Dlugosz, boxing out of Immaculata, on a unanimous decision in the heavyweight final.

In a special contest, Shauna O’Callaghan (Clann Naofa) got the nod on a 4-1 split decision against Rosie Doherty from the St Francis’s club in Limerick.

Three-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann got the evening under way in knockout fashion when he floored Paddy Barnes just 10 seconds into their catchweight clash, a crushing left hand sending the three-time Olympian to the canvas and leaving him out for the count.

Dáithí was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant for more than 500 days. His family started this Donate4Dáithí campaign to raise awareness of organ donation while he waits, and more information is available at


W51kg: C Fryers (Immaculata) walkover

52kg: J O’Neill (Corpus Christi) walkover

64kg/69kg special contest: S O’Callaghan (Clann Naofa) bt R Doherty (St Francis’s, Limerick) 4-1

W54kg: S McKenna (Holy Family) bt C McComiskey (Gilford) 3-2

49kg: D Toland (Holy Family, Belfast) bt C Bigger (Cookstown) 5-0

60kg: R Lavery (Holy Family) bt M Kambule (Holy Trinity) (technical decision after round one)

81kg: K Tucker (Emerald) bt G McDowell (Eastside) RSC1

91+kg: P Rogers (St John’s, Derry) bt D Boriskins (Sacred Heart, Newry) 5-0

91kg: K Dlugosz (Immaculata) bt M Erpelding (Holy Family) 5-0

63kg: D Clarke (Monkstown) bt J McGivern (St George’s) 3-2

75kg: J Tucker (Emerald) bt G French (Emerald) 3-2

69kg: E McKeever (Holy Family, Drogheda) bt M McCole (Illies GG)  4-1

57kg: JP Hale (Star) bt C Murphy (St George’s) 4-1