Seconds Out: Boxing returns at last as rest of 2021 opens up

For the first time in 18 months, amateur boxing took place last weekend with the start of Irish Elite Championships. Picture by Mark Marlow
Neil Loughran

AFTER a wait that seemed destined never to end, amateur boxing finally returned last weekend when the Irish Elite Championships got under way at the National Stadium.

Having been held in cold storage while most other sports were given the green light to resume, boxing had to bide its time and ensure all protocols could be met before a return to the ring was granted.

Prior to Friday night, the last championships to take place in Ireland were the Ulster Elites in February 2020. Olympic squad training was permitted to facilitate elite athletes, but clubs boxers across all age ranges had to wait, and then wait some more, amid a blur of uncertainty and indecision as indoor sport suffered badly.

Some clubs opened, closed and reopened when allowed to do so. Others haven’t reopened at all. And what of the next generation of talent? Only time will tell what impact the past 18 months has taken.

The start of the Irish Elites was a welcome end to the exile, even if boxing as we know it is not quite back yet. Boxers were accompanied by two cormer personnel - but only after passing an antigen test, a doctor’s examination and the weigh-in.

No spectators were in attendance over the weekend, with only those deemed essential permitted. Thankfully TG4 streamed every bout live on their YouTube channel for those unable to make the familiar trek to South Circular Road.

Further good news has been forthcoming too, with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) confirming that, as of yesterday, affiliated clubs who have successfully completed the Covid-19 ‘return to boxing’ process can engage in full contact indoor training.

After plenty of discussion, the Ulster Boxing Council also unveiled a proposed fixture list for the months ahead, with the provincial action resuming in the weeks after the conclusion of the Irish Elites, which come to a close on Saturday, October 2.

The Ulster intermediate/senior open and novice championships will run from October 19-21, with the County Antrim 12s B/G 1-7 championships from October 26-29. Both will take place at the Corpus Christi club in Belfast.

The Ulster 9 County B/G 123 championships are scheduled to take place in Derry on November 6-7, 13-14 (if needed), while the County Antrim open competition (open to all Ulster clubs) will be held in Belfast from November 22-26.

The eagerly-anticipated Ulster Elite Championships, meanwhile, will hopefully deliver some Christmas crackers when the preliminary rounds take place from December 7-10, with finals night scheduled for December 17.

They will take place in Belfast, with a venue yet to be confirmed – although the competition is a chance for Commonwealth Games 2022 hopefuls to force their way into the selection plan.

Meanwhile, on his return to the ring after four years away, 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill edged out Emerald’s promising Kane Tucker on a 3-2 split in their 86kg Irish Elites clash on Saturday – though Tucker had temporarily moved up from light-heavyweight for the competition.

There were mixed results for St John’s, Swatragh as Eoghan Quinn bowed out at the hands of former Irish champion Wayne Kelly, while super-heavy Patrick Rogers forced a first round stoppage of Springtown’s Jack Divine.

Eugene McKeever, of Holy Family, Drogheda, got the better of Northside’s Barry O’Connor in their quarter-final.

There were good wins for Tyrone duo Jude Gallagher and Teo Alin on Friday night too, with Newtownstewart’s Gallagher beating Patryk Adamus on a 3-2 split and Alin beating Thomas McCann of St Paul’s at 60kg.

This weekend, Canal light-fly Chloe Fleck comes up against Shannon Sweeney of St Anne’s in the opening bout on Friday night, with Letterkenny’s Paddy McShane taking on Michael Stokes (St Michael’s, Athy) at 51kg.

In the final fight on Friday night, two-time Ulster Elite champion JP Hale goes toe-to-toe with Drimnagh’s Michael Stephens. European Games bronze medallist Grainne Walsh returns to the ring after an injury-hit 12 months when she faces Kaci Rock (Enniskerry) on Saturday.


Irish Elite Championship semi-finals

Friday (7pm)

48kg Chloe Fleck (Canal) V Shannon Sweeney (St Annes)
48kg Ciara Walsh (Smithfield) V Carol Coughlan (Monkstown D\0
51kg Michael Stokes (St Michaels Athy) V Paddy McShane (Letterkenny)
54kg Niamh Faye (Ballyboughal) V Kirsten Cresham (Castlebar)
54kg Emma Flannery (Baldoyle) V Sara Hagighat-Jo (St Brigids Edenderry)
54kg Jake Rapple (Monkstown D) V Nathan Horrigan (Crumlin)
57kg Jude Gallagher ( Two Castles) V Adam Hession (Monivea)
57kg Sean Purcell (Saviours Crystal) V Jordan Smith (Holy Family Drogheda)
60kg John Paul Hale (Star) V Michael Stephens (Drimnagh)
60kg Dominic Bradley (Emerald A) V Teo Allen (Cookstown)
67kg Michael Avetisian (Mulhuddart) V Eugene McKeever (Holy Family Drogheda)
75kg Gabriel Dossen (Olympic Galway) V Daniel O’Sullivan (Lucan)

Saturday (3pm)

57kg Jennifer Lehan (DCU) V Zara Breslin (Tramore)
57kg Kellie McLoughlin (Drimnagh) W/O
63.5kg John O’Connell (Holy Trinity) V Brandon McCarthy (St Michaels Athy)
63.5kg Nathan Richmond (Scorpion) V Jack McGivern (St Georges)
66kg Renee Roache (DCU) V Keisha Attewell (Tobar Pheadair)
66kg Kaci Rock (Enniskerry) W/O
67kg Wayne Kelly (Ballynacargy) V Evan Fitzgerald (Esker)
71kg Emeka Onwuka (All Saints) V Luke Maguire (Esker)
71kg Kieran Molloy (Oughterard) V Jack Brady (Crumlin)
80kg Tommy Hyde (St Michaels Athy) V John Joe Nevin (Crumlin)
80kg Stewart Edwards (Crumlin) V Keelan Cassidy (Saviours Crystal)
86kg James Redmond (Ballybrack) V Faolain Rahill (DCU)
86kg Ighosa Igharo (Clann Naofa) V Darren O’Neill (Paulstown)
92kg Marcin Skalski (Athlone) W/O
92kg Cathal Crowley (Spartan M) V Jack Marley (Monkstown D)
92+kg Patrick Rogers (St Johns U) V Thomas Maughan (Cavan
92+kg Martin Keenan (Rathkeale) V Samuel Ilesamni (St Mary’s)


Kurt Walker impressed en route to the last eight of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Picture by AP


TWO-TIME Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes has urged the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) to do all in their power to keep Kurt Walker amateur until the Paris 2023 Games.

Earlier this month Olympic gold medallist Kellie Harrington confirmed she had decided to shun the professional ranks in order to remain in the vest, while Belfast welter Aidan Walsh – a bronze medallist in Tokyo – has also indicated his intention to stay amateur for the forseeable.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for Walker, though.

The Canal counter-puncher impressed during the Olympics, just missing out on the medal stages when narrowly defeated by American Duke Ragan in the last eight, having already seen off reigning world champion and number one seed Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov.

At 26, Walker is sure to have attracted the attention of pro promoters – although he was entered in the Irish Elite Championships, and was due to face European U22 silver medallist Adam Hession at the National Stadium last Saturday. However, the 2019 European Games gold medallist didn’t weigh-in for the competition.

With the next Olympics only three years away, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next summer, Walker could yet stay amateur – and Barnes believes the IABA should try and secure his services for Paris.

“I would advise Kurt against going pro because I think he could be Olympic champion in three years. He’s still young, if he won an Olympic gold medal he could be fast-tracked if he wants to turn pro at that stage,” said the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 bronze medallist.

“It’s a big decision, I know that. But if he goes pro now, how many fights a year does he get? How much does he get paid a year? If you go pro you’ve to pay tax, accommodation, travelling away if you’re coached outside Ireland, and there aren’t that many pro coaches in Ireland.

“It’s all cost, where when you’re amateur you get government funding, access to top coaching – honestly, the IABA should give him a contract until Paris, same as they did with me, with Katie Taylor, with Joe Ward. It’s a no-brainer.”


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