The Championships start on Friday evening and will feature Olympic medallists, World, European, Olympic Youth, European Union and Irish champions battling it out over the next three weekends in the second month of the IABA’s Centenary year.
The 2011 Championships have an added significance as the winners will be part of the Irish squad going forward for selection for the AIBA 2011 World Senior Men’s Championships and Olympic qualifiers in Baku, Azerbaijan in September.
The final Olympic qualifier for Europeans, or last chance saloon as it is already being called, will be in Istanbul in April 2012. The exact qualification criterion for Istanbul will be determined by the percentage of European boxers qualifying for the London Games in Baku.
The 2012 AIBA World Women’s Championships in China will act as the only Olympic qualifier for female boxers.
Citing the Olympic incentive, Irish head coach Billy Walsh described the 2011 Elite Championships as effectively being the first qualifier for the 30th Olympiad, a view echoed by IABA Director of Boxing Dominic O’Rourke, who predicted a high-quality tournament featuring some of the best boxers in the world.
Former Kilkenny U/21 hurler Darren O’Neill, who teaches 4th class at the Holy Trinity school in Donaghmeade, Dublin, is certainly aware of the Olympic dimension.
However, the 2010 European silver-medallist and 2009 European Union champion said his immediate focus is on an Elite Championships hat-trick.
‘I’ll be going for my third title in a row at the National Seniors, but I’m not looking beyond that to the Olympic qualifiers. I’ve learned not look too far ahead of myself in this game.’ said the Paulstown BC club-man.
‘Having said that qualifying for the Olympic Games has always been a dream of mine since I watched Michael Carruth winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games.’
O’Neill beat 2009 European Youth champ Jason Quigley in the 2010 middleweight finals and reckons that the Donegal ace will be a big threat again this year.
‘Jason is boxing very well this year and there are a lot of talented middleweights coming through and they have to be respected. Given what is at stake I expect the competition to be intense in all weight categories.
‘I’ve got some good training and sparring under my belt last weekend. I sparred with Kenny Egan in Dublin and John Joe Joyce in Athy and those sessions went very well.’
Meanwhile, current AIBA World Youth champion Joe Ward and 2008 AIBA World Youth bronze medallist Davey Joe Joyce are confirmed entries in Ken Egan’s light-heavyweight category, and both will be vying to bring a halt to the Neilstown southpaw’s ambitions of landing an historic 11th Irish senior title in a row.
Ward claimed gold at the 2010 AIBA World Youths in Azerbaijan at middleweight, one year after he won light-middleweight gold at the 2009 AIBA World Junior Championships in Armenia, while Joyce has bounced back from being out for nearly two years with a hand injury to claim Irish Intermediate and U/21 titles over the last few months.
Olympic Youth light-flyweight champ Ryan Burnett, who won silver at the 2010 World Youths, has entered the Elite Seniors at flyweight, a move which could see him meet reigning champ Gary Molloy. Former Irish champion Declan Geraghty is also included in an explosive looking mix along with Ryston prospect Chris Phelan.
Burnett’s Holy Family Belfast team-mate Paddy Barnes, the current European and Commonwealth champ and a bronze medal winner at the 2008 Olympics, will defend his Irish title at light-flyweight.
World and European champion Katie Taylor has entered the Women’s Elites, while 2008 Olympians John Joe Nevin and John Joe Joyce, both defending champions, will be trading leather for bantamweight and welterweight glory.
Nevin could meet Tyrone McCullagh, the 2010 featherweight champion, as the bantamweight (54Kg) and featherweight (57Kg) categories been amalgamated at 56Kg. The new bantamweight class will also feature ex title holder Shane Cox and Ryan Lindberg.
European bronze medallist Eric Donovan will face stiff competition – not least from his own St Michael’s Athy team-mate David Oliver Joyce, the 2009 European Union champion – to retain his lightweight title, which he won against Joyce in the 2010 final en route to collecting the boxer of the tournament award.
Ray Moylette, the 2008 AIBA World Youth champion, will be defending his light-welterweight crown at IABA headquarters, and John Joe Joyce, a bronze medal winner at the 2008 European Championships, will be looking to retain his welterweight title.
Moylette will be in against Philip Sutcliffe, the 2009 champion, and Ross Hickey, also a bronze medal winner at the 2008 European Championships, and former Irish and 2007 EU champion Roy Sheahan to name but three.
Joyce, meanwhile, could renew acquaintances with recently crowned Ulster senior champion Willie McLaughlin, a quarter-finalists at the 2009 AIBA World Senior Championships. Both boxers were involved in an edge-of-the-seat 69Kg final last year, a decider which Joyce won.
Tipperary heavyweight Con Sheehan, a gold medal winner at the 2009 European Union Championships, will be seeking to make it four-in-row for the Clonmel BC at the South Circular Road venue.
Donegal-born Cathal McMonagle, who boxes out of the Holy Trinity BC, is the defending Irish super-heavyweight champion.
Article source RTE