National Elite Championships Round-up: Joe Ward reclaims title

It was a busy night of action as Ciaran Gallagher reports

Joe Ward, boxing, National Elite Championships

Joe Ward in red with Anthony Browne in blue ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Joe Ward reclaimed the Irish light-heavyweight title for the first time in three years with a 4-1 split decision win over Dubliner Anthony Browne at the National Elite Championships on Friday night.

The victory marked Ward’s first domestic success since 2014 as he had not competed in the nationals over the past two years due to international commitments in AIBA’s APB pro tournament.

The reigning European champion and World silver medallist boxed aggressively from the opening bell, abandoning his usual back-foot style as he forced his opponent to the ropes on a number of occasions in the first round.

Browne attempted to combat his more experienced foe by switching between orthodox and southpaw, but the tactic did not appear to cause Ward much trouble to begin with - although the Dubliner had more success in a competitive second round.

Ward picked up a cut over his left eye – seemingly from a head clash - in the final stanza, with Browne becoming more aggressive with the scent of blood as he pursued the Moate man.

Kelly Harrington in red consoles Shauna O'Keeffe in blue ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

By this stage, Ward was visibly tiring but the reigning European champion remained composed and managed to see out the win.

Ward’s fellow World silver medallist, Kellie Harrington, succeeded Katie Taylor as female lightweight champion with victory over Clonmel’s Shauna O’Keeffe.

Glasnevin’s Harrington also claimed a 4-1 split win after seeing off a game O’Keeffe.

In the battle of the champions at 56kg, Belfast’s Kurt Walker defended his crown against reigning light-flyweight title holder Stephen McKenna of Old School, Monaghan, who jumped two weight classes for this year’s tournament.

While Walker was the defending champion at 56kg, the departure of Michael Conlan to the professional ranks means that the bantamweight title is a particularly coveted prize this year with European and World Championships scheduled for 2017.

In his typical stick-and-move style, Walker attempted to land looping right hands on McKenna with the Monaghan man taking a head-first approach as he attempted to withstand the champion’s shots in a brave effort to land his own.

McKenna – having moved up two weights clearly looked the slighter man but he gave as good as he got. However, the champion’s greater accuracy in the third and final round helped him retain his title on a unanimous decision.

A new light-flyweight champion was crowned as Derry’s Blaine Dobbins claimed a split-decision victory over Darryl Moran of Donegal.

Moran’s busy approach and fast hands tested southpaw Dobbins, whose nose was bloodied in the opening round from his opponent’s speedy shots.

Andy Lee looks on. Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Dobbins sporadically landed some good punches, however, and the judges rewarded his efforts with a 3-2 verdict although Moran put up a good fight and would be entitled to feel slightly hard done by.

In the opening bout of the night, Kristina O’Hara of St John Bosco defeated Mayo’s Shannon Sweeney to claim the women’s light-flyweight (48kg) title.

O’Hara claimed a unanimous decision, forcing a count in the final round after landing a stinging right hand to the already bloody nose of Sweeney.

At 69kg, Gráinne Walsh of Spartacus forced three counts on Bray’s Gillian Duffy of Spartacus before their contest was stopped in the second round.

Referee Martin Fennessy administered two counts in the second round before halting the bout after Walsh overwhelmed Duffy in the final stanza en route to claiming the vacant welterweight title.

Two champions contested the women’s featherweight crown as reigning 57kg champ Moira McElligott of Athy came up against Mulhuddart’s Dervla Duffy, who moved up from 54kg after claiming the 2016 bantamweight title.

And Duffy became a two-weight champion by upsetting the defending title holder on a 4-1 split decision after an energetic display.

Later, at 81kg, Leona Houlihan of Crumlin and the Defence Forces claimed the vacant light-heavyweight belt with a dominant second-round stoppage win over Mourne’s Caroline Connolly.

Four female champions were awarded walkovers with Ormeau Road’s Carly McNaul (51kg), Mourne’s Terri Mullarney (54kg) and Maeve McCarron (91kg) of Carrigart picking up titles, while Christine Desmond (Fr Horgans) retained her 75kg belt.

At lightweight, Olympic’s Patrick Mongan upset Dubliner George Bates to claim the vacant 60kg crown. 

Later in the night, Belfast's Seán McComb successfully completed his move up to light-welterweight to defeat Wayne Kelly in a polished display, while Wexford's Dean Walsh, nephew of former Irish head coach Billy, also successfully made a jump up as the three-time 64kg champion overcame Donegal's Brett McGinty to claim the 69kg welterweight crown.

Rio Olympian Brendan Irvine battled past Thomas McCarthy, despite a gutsy display from the Cork teenager.

While McCarthy put up a real fight over the first two rounds, Belfast's Irvine showed his class to control the final round en route to a unanimous points win as he retained his 52kg flyweight belt.

And London 2012 Olympic captain Darren O'Neill was also successful as the Kilkenny man claimed his seventh elite title - his third heavyweight win on the spin - with a unanimous decision over Ken Okungbowa of Athlone.

Dean Walsh was named Boxer of the Championships following his successful move up to 69kg.