Darren O’Neill claims heavyweight title after bloody bout

Ireland captain unhappy at opponent’s use of head at National Stadium

Darren O'Neill gave away just about everything to Ken Okungbowa in last night's heavyweight title fight in the National Stadium. O'Neill, the Irish captain at the London Olympics was lighter, smaller and had a shorter reach but came through what turned into a bloody battle to take his first heavyweight title on a split decision.

Jumping around two stone from his middleweight division of last year, O’Neill complained to the referee after the fight about his opponent’s use of the head.

Twice the fight was stopped to clean the blood from O’Neill after a succession of head clashes. The second time a doctor was called to the ring to check the southpaw, who was clearly annoyed at the end of the bout.

O’Neill pulled through using his experience and guile. He landed the cleaner punches, especially in the first round when a couple of backhand lefts cut through Okungbowa’s defence.


It was a battle to keep his distance and maintain the energy levels but he did it masterfully, a deep cut on his eyebrow a reminder of his first nine minutes of championship fighting at 91kg.

The last welterweight final between two Olympians was in 1992 when Michael Carruth faced Billy Walsh. Carruth famously won that one and went on to win the gold medal in Barcelona.

Last night it was Beijing welterweight John Joe Joyce against London 2012 Olympian Adam Nolan. Nolan, boxing out of the Katie Taylor gym in Bray, gave Joyce a master class in the first round and from there on the St Michael's Athy boxer was chasing.

Southpaw Nolan, rocked Joyce with a backhand left in the opening exchanges. He caught him again clean and hard just as Joyce came away from his corner after the referee had ordered him to tie his laces. It was a big, early impression from Nolan, who bristled with aggression.

The final two rounds were less dramatic with Nolan keeping his distance except to tie up, his left constantly troubling Joyce. But he had done the damage early on and much as Joyce tried he couldn’t make an impression. Nolan, who was never under pressure, won the bout on a unanimous decision.

"I rattled John Joe early on. I probably went in for the kill and probably should have shown a little more composure and I could have forced a count. I just tried to smother him," said an ecstatic Nolan. "Myself, my brother Darren and Pete Taylor worked on my game plan all week, just not to give him space."

The first fight of the night produced a new champion in Brendan Irvine in the 49kg division. The tall and rangy Irvine beat Hugh Myers in a unanimous decision for his first senior title.

Myers, twice a beaten finalist in 2012 and 2014, was a previous winner in 2013, the year after the Olympic Games, when Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes did not take part.

Barnes was again absent this year as he's pursuing an Olympic ticket to Rio through the World Series of Boxing (WSB). Boxing with Italia Thunder, Barnes and bantamweight Michael Conlon, also in the WSB, were both absent from last night's card, which had just two defending champions, middleweight Michael O'Reilly and Dean Walsh, the nephew of Irish head coach Billy Walsh, from 10 weight divisions.

Irvine, from the St Paul’s club in Antrim, had never been to a national final before, but he won it clearly with better movement and cleaner punching. Myers was direct and constantly moving forward but Irvine slipped him too often, landing scoring combinations throughout for a deserved unanimous win.

Middleweight O'Reilly successfully defended his middleweight title with a unanimous win over Dundalk's Stephen Broadhurst, while Kurt Walker won at 56kg, beating Seán Higginson.

Walsh also defended his belt in the 65kg weight division, beating Ray Moylette.

49kg Brendan Irvine (St Paul's) bt Hugh Myers (St Brigid's) 3-0
52kg Myles Casey (St Francis) bt Evan Metcalfe (Crumlin) 2-1
56kg Kurt Walker (Canal) bt Sean Higginson (St John Bosco) 3-0
60kg Adam Nolan (Bray) bt John Joe Joyce (St Michael's Athy) 3-0
64kg Dean Walsh (St Joseph's) bt Ray Moylette (St Anne's) 2-1
75kg Michael O'Reilly (Portlaoise) bt Stephen Broadhurst (Dealgan) 3-0
91kg Darren O'Neill (Paulstown) bt Ken Okungbowa (Athlone) 2-1

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times