Stakes high for Ireland’s boxers in National Elite finals

Michael O’Reilly and Darren O’Neill aiming to secure their place in Olympic qualifiers

The annual boxing showpiece is set for the National Stadium tonight but perhaps without the glamour it might have otherwise had leading into an Olympic year. The Elite men’s finals will not have Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes or Joe Ward, the three biggest Irish names in amateur boxing.

Nor will Steven Donnelly participate in the championships. He is the fourth Irish boxer, with Barnes, Conlan and Ward, to have qualified for Rio next summer but will not be challenging for the welterweight belt, where Bray's Adam Nolan, who competed in the London 2012 Olympics, faces Martin Stokes of Holy Family Drogheda.

Barnes and Donnelly qualified for Rio through the World Series of Boxing (WSB) while World Champion Conlan and Ward booked their tickets through regular amateur boxing, although bantamweight, Conlan also qualified through the WSB.

Irish boxing has nine – three women and six men – further Olympic places to aim for in 2016 with many of tonight’s boxers hoping that their names can be added to the list.


Olympic champion Katie Taylor, who won her first Irish title in the ring two weeks ago, will be aiming to qualify for Rio in Istanbul, Turkey in April and also at the World Championships in Kazakhstan in May.

Choice pairings

The men’s Irish team for the 2016 Olympic qualifiers in Istanbul, will be assembled after the ten weight divisions are decided tonight.

Despite the elite four not performing, there are a number of choice pairings not least Michael O’Reilly’s meeting with Conor Wallace in the 75kg class. O’Reilly (22) is the European Games champion and ranked at three in the world and first in Europe. The middleweight is the highest ranked boxer in the championships. He is targeting a third successive title.

“I’d be confident going into the final. It’s what I’ve been preparing for. I have to do what I do best. I’m focussing on that,” said O’Reilly, who also won the bronze medal at this year’s World Championships.

There should also be interest in the light welterweight clash between Dean Walsh and Ray Moylette. Walsh is the nephew of former Irish coach Billy, who is not expected to be in the corner this year. Walsh took up a job with US Boxing and although he is currently in Sheffield where the US team is in training, he won't make it over to Dublin for the night.

Darren O’Neil hopes to continue his progress in the heavyweight division, where he faces Bernard O’Reilly of Portlaoise. The former middleweight champion has said that he is finding the heavier weight more comfortable now. Another Olympian, O’Neill is aiming for his sixth title.

“You can forget about Istanbul (Olympic qualifiers) if you don’t perform,” said O’Neill. “One bad performance can change your entire year.”

The IABA are running the championships twice this year to assist Ireland’s boxers heading into the various AOB, WSB and APB Olympic qualifiers in 2016.

Tonight's Finals

Light-fly (49kg): Stephen McKenna (Old School) v Regan Buckley (St Teresas); Fly (52kg): TJ Waite (Ormeau Road) v Brendan Irvine (St Paul's Antrim); Bantam (56kg): Kurt Walker (Canal) v Myles Casey (St Francis); Light (60kg): David Oliver Joyce (St Michael's Athy) v Sean McComb (Holy Trinity); Light-welter (64kg): Dean Walsh (St Josephs/Ibars) v Ray Moylette (St Annes); Welter (69kg): Adam Nolan (Bray) v Martin Stokes (Holy Family Drogheda); Middle (75kg): Michael O'Reilly (Portlaoise) v Conor Wallace (St Monicas Newry); Light-heavy (81kg): Christopher Blaney (Navan) v John Paul Delaney (Emerald Antrim); Heavy (91kg): Darren O'Neill (Paulstown) v Bernard O'Reilly (Portlaoise); Super-heavy (91+kg): Dean Gardiner (Clonmel) v Thomas Carty (Glasnevin).

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times