Four of the twenty four contestants at the Irish Daily Star sponsored 2012 Elite Championships finals can join the “high five club” if they emerge victorious at Dublin’s National Stadium on Friday evening.
St Michael’s Athy team-mates David Oliver Joyce and John Joe Joyce, Con Sheehan and John Joe Nevin go into the weekend’s deciders with four Elite titles apiece under their belts and are all one win away from winning their 5th Irish Elite belt.
David Oliver is in against Michael McDonagh in a repeat of the 2011 final which McDonagh won, while Sheehan, who retained the heavyweight belt in 2011 but who has since moved up a notch to super-heavyweight, will be aiming for his fifth belt in-a-row versus Sean Turner.
Ken Egan, meanwhile, will be seeking to become the first Irish boxer in the 101-year history of the IABA to claim 11 Elite titles. At present, Egan and Jim O’Sullivan have won ten Elite titles each.
Egan,(30), looked poised to achieve his goal of winning eleven – in-a-row – last year but lost out to Joe Ward, the current European champion, in an incident-packed light-heavyweight final.
Ward, (18), will once again be standing in his way in a repeat of the 2011 ”battle of the southpaws” on Friday, a three-rounder which Tommy McCarthy, who faces Christy Joyce in the heavyweight final, reckons could go right down to the final bell.
“I think it could be very, very close again, there might be just a point or two in it because both guys are so talented. I’m not surprised that Kenny has gone back down to 81Kg because he is much more comfortable there and when I saw him box at the Olympic test event in London he was unbelievable, said McCarthy, who was beaten by Egan in the 2009 and 2010 light-heavyweight finals.”
The 2008 AIBA World Youth bronze medalist added that he believes that the road to the 2012 London Olympics begins at the National Stadium on Friday evening.
“As far as I’m concerned finals night is the first Olympic qualifier for me. I just have to win this or forget about London. This is my third Irish final and I’m desperate to get my hands on the title and I feel very confident because I have prepared so well.This guy (Christy Joyce) is tall and I can’t take anything for granted. I’ll be going out all guns blazing.”
Ward lost out to Iranian Eshan Rouzbahani on a countback at the 2011 AIBA World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, a shock defeat that cost him a place at the London Olympics.
The 2009 AIBA World Junior and 2010 AIBA World Youth champion beat Davey Joe Joyce to make Friday’s final, while Egan was 17-4 ahead – which was the exact score that Ward beat Joyce by – when his
semi-final with Eamon Walsh was stopped in his favour in the second, after Walsh, who had taken two standing counts, suffered a facial injury.
“I still have the big shots. You don’t lose that. If I perform at 100% I’m in with a shout,” said Ward. The Moate BC clubman also admitted that he was below par at the World Championships: ”All I had to do at the World Championships was box at 50% and I’ve have won.”
Ross Hickey claimed the light-welterweight title and the boxer of the tournament award at the 2011 Championships and is being tipped to retain his belt against Stephen Coughlan.
But the stylish Grangecon BC ace, a bronze medal winner at the 2008 European Championships in Liverpool, is not in the business of taking things for granted, particularly against an opponent who is trained by Katie Taylor’s coach and dad Pete Taylor.
“I am focused on the title now. I will look at the Olympic qualification and think about that after. The main thing for me this week is to retain my Irish title, he said.
“I look at this fight as I have the last two. I am boxing against a lad who is trying to take my title away. I know Stephen is hungry for this. I know him well and he is improving all the time.
“He will be eager to be the champion. I had two tough fights ahead of the final. Sutcliffe and Murray are two strong boys and I am just happy to be in the final.”
Defending welterweight champion Adam Nolan, a team-mate of Coughlan’s at the Bray BC, meets Beijing Olympian and 2008 European bronze medalist John Joe Joyce.
Joyce, nicknamed Triple J, beat his St Michael’s Athy team-mate Roy Sheahan to book his ticket into the business end of the 69Kg class, while Nolan, a Garda, registered a solid win over the experienced Willie McLaughlin in the last-four.
AIBA World Youth bronze medalist Michaela Walsh and Dervla Duffy contest the women’s featherweight final over four-two minute rounds, while Lynne McEnery and Oliwia Samsanov go head-to-head in Friday’s curtain raiser at light-flyweight.
Belfast dynamo Paddy Barnes returns to the home of Irish boxing just three,three minute rounds away from winning six on-the-trot. The Belfast light-flyweight, a gold medal winner at the 2010 European
Championships at the Ice Palace in Moscow, meets Hugh Myres, who secured an impressive semi-final victory over Evan Metcalfe – who Barnes beat in the 2011 final – last weekend.
London 2012 Olympians Michael Conlan, John Joe Nevin, who is aiming for a 5th successive 54Kg belt, and Darren O’Neill, are in possession of the Irish flyweight, bantamweight and middleweight belts.
Conlan goes three frames with Chris Phelan on Friday, while Nevin is in against Michael Nevin and O’Neill trades leather with Derry stand out Conor Coyle.
To a certain extent, the added ingredient has been taken out of these three finals by the fact that all three defending champions have qualified for the 30th Olympiad. However, the London-bound trio will be eager to stay ahead of the posse in their respective divisions.
Equally, however, Phelan, Michael Nevin and Coyle will be just as eager to add the scalps of an Irish Olympian to their expanding CVs.
The male boxers competing in Friday’s finals have amassed an amazing 40 Irish Elite titles between them since Ken Egan first finished on top of the podium at the expense of Conor Carmichael at the 2001 Elite Championships.
“It’s hard to believe – twelve seasons gone in the blink of an eye,” said Egan, who claimed his first two titles at middleweight before winning eight on-the-bounce at light-heavyweight.
O’Neill (3rd), Ward (3rd), Nevin (4th), Barnes (8th) and Conlan (14th) go into Friday’s finals officially ranked in the top 15 in the World by AIBA.
The final Olympic qualifier for European male boxers will take place in Trabzon, Turkey between April 13th and 22nd.
The Irish Amateur Boxing Association will ratify their squad for the Turkish qualifiers after Friday’s finals.