This one was for Aidan insists Michaela Walsh after claiming 10th Irish title

Michaela Walsh had too much skill and strength for Kelsey Leonard in Saturday night's Irish featherweight final at the National Stadium. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

EXPERIENCED Michaela Walsh insisted her 10th Irish elite title triumph was a success shared with younger brother Aidan, following his shock defeat just 24 hours earlier.

Michaela was always in control in her final victory over Kelsey Leonard at the National Stadium on Saturday night, securing her spot as the country’s top featherweight as the road to Paris 2024 gets under way.

However, the picture is less clear for Aidan following his semi-final defeat to eventual champion Dean Walsh, who edged to a split decision win over Holy Trinity’s Jon McConnell in the light-middleweight decider.

Having landed bronze at the Tokyo Olympics 18 months ago, and looked imperious on the way to claiming Commonwealth Games gold in Birmingham last August, Aidan Walsh appeared destined for a second crack at the Olympic Games next year.

All is far from lost at this stage, even in the wake of that shock defeat, and big sister Michaela admitted she had to park Friday night’s devastation to focus on the job at hand the next night – with Aidan, typically, by her side all the way.

“Of course, it’s very hard - it’s nearly like a loss for myself,” said the 29-year-old, who also claimed Commonwealth Games gold at the third attempt last year.

“I do find it difficult, but I’m an elite level boxer and I need to know how to control my emotions and use my energy in the correct way.

“I’ve experience of doing that so I just had to set it aside. He was up first thing this morning at the weigh in with me - he’s always there for me, we’re always there for each other.

“That title’s for me and him. He’s been with me every step of the way and he always will be.”

Emerald ace Walsh returned to the ring for the first time since landing European bronze in October when she defeated Kellie McLoughlin on the first weekend of the Irish elites, with victory over Leonard on Saturday sealing title number 10.

And while Paris is the goal, Walsh was quick to reflect on the reasons she feels better than at any other stage in her career.

“It was tough last year, very tough, but I felt it was probably one of my best years boxing. I just feel that in terms of boxing ability I came on more last year than any other year.

“There were times I put too much emphasis on boxing - it was boxing or nothing. There’s more to life than boxing, I realise that. If I had to walk away from the sport today, I have achieved my dreams.

“I’m not going to stop until I try to achieve them all, but if I had to walk away today for any reason, I’m really proud of my achievements. Anything on top of that is a bonus really.”

And, having come through a pandemic and competitions either in far-flung destinations or behind closed doors, sometimes both, it felt good to be back at the place where it all began.

“Everybody always asks ‘where’s the favourite place you’ve ever boxed?’ It’s here, the National Stadium.

“It’s where I had my first fight, and maybe where I’ll have my last fight. I’m just glad to have my family and everyone here to be able to watch, especially after Covid when there were a lot of tournaments my family weren’t able to go to.

“It’s amazing to be around my own people.”

Nicole Clyde buried any lingering memories of her Commonwealth Games disappointment last summer by beating Chloe Gabriel in Saturday's Irish final. Picture by Hugh Russell



HOLY Family, Drogheda provided once of the success stories at the National Stadium on Saturday night – and Armagh man Eugene McKeever put the icing on the cake by successfully defending his Irish title.

With four boxers in finals, Ricky Nesbitt, Christopher O’Reilly, Davy Joyce and then McKeever all produced the goods on an unforgettable night for the club.

“That just tells you how fun our Christmas was in Drogheda,” smiled the Mullaghbawn welter, “there wasn’t much turkey ate or much celebrating done, I can tell you.

“But it’s all worth it now - it’s a massive achievement for the club and I’d like to thank all the coaches who put the work in over the holidays. It paid off.”

Although his priority was to defend the 67kg crown, McKeever insists he still has Olympic ambitions, which would most likely mean moving up to an already heavily populated light-middleweight division.

But that is a conversation for another day.

“My main goal was defending my Irish title, getting back up to the High Performance and talking with the High Performance coaches about what’s next.”

Elsewhere, there was also joy for McKeever’s Commonwealth Games team-mate Nicole Clyde.

The Antrim boxer – who pushed Commonwealth silver medallist Carly McNaul all the way in last month’s Ulster final - buried the disappointment of her first round exit in Birmingham by getting the better of Mulhuddart’s Chloe Gabriel after moving up to 52kg.

“It’s definitely worth it,” she said of the decision to move up to flyweight, “I’m not killing myself every week, I’m just enjoying where I’m at and fighting the way I want to.

“It was the right call.”

And, in terms of bouncing back from the Commonwealths, the 20-year-old admitted being draw against the eventual champion, India’s Nitu Ghangas, left her facing an uphill battle.

“It was just unlucky. It was alright because I had my family over in Birmingham with me so that sort of eased the blow a wee bit.

“But there’s no point dwelling on the past, you need to look forward into the future.”

There was disappointment for Newry banger Kane Tucker, meanwhile, after he broke his right hand in the first round of Friday night’s cruiserweight semi-final win over Kyle Roche, forcing him out of Saturday'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 Saturday’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.