BOXING: Barnes and Nevin pull out

Drama and disappointment at the opening weekend of the Elite National Boxing Championships at the National Stadium last night, three more champions losing their titles even before a punch was thrown.

Reigning lightweight champion Michael McDonagh had already signalled his intention not to defend his crown but he has now been joined by double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes (light flyweight) and London Olympic silver medal-winner John Joe Nevin (bantamweight), along with super-heavyweight title-holder Con Sheehan.

Meanwhile, and in stark contrast, London Olympics gold medallist Katie Taylor has retained her national lightweight title, again without a punch being thrown, having received a walkover all the way through the final.

Katie at least had made the weigh-in, coming in at just under the 60kg limit at 59.9.

Likewise, Sheehan weighed in but then very reluctantly withdrew with an injured right hand.

Neither Barnes nor John Joe Nevin made it that far, however, Barnes suffering from flu, Nevin complaining of a wrist injury, also on his right hand. Between them those three have a total of 16 Elite national titles, Barnes with six, Nevin and Sheehan with five each, and each was hotly favoured to continue that run of success. Their absence now opens the door for others, European U23 silver medallist Hugh Myers now favoured to take Barnes’ title, former Elite champion Declan Geraghty looking to take advantage of Nevin’s absence.

At superheavy, the door now opens for Sean Turner.

Opening the action last night, Ennis youngster Martin Keenan proved far too strong for John Connors (Thurles) in the delayed Novice 91kg 2013 national final, the referee stopping the contest midway through round one after Connors had already been dropped with a ferocious body shot.

In the first of the three subsequent Elite 69kg preliminary bouts Petru Ursu’s power proved too much for Stephen Mulholland’s panache, a third-round standing count after two rapid-fire head-snapping shots helping the Lucan fighter to a convincing 23-15 points win. Next up for Petru later this evening however, a date with reigning champion Adam Nolan.

In the next welterweight bout, Limerick youngster Phil Moloney continued his rapid rise through the ranks (having won the Novice title last year, he has come straight through to the Elites) with a classy 12-8 win over Patrick Cawley (Lucan), an evenly-balanced four points per round performance. Phil will now meet the experienced Willie McLaughlin.

In what was the fight of the night, the third and final bout in this division, switch-hitting Stephen Donnelly finished stronger to outpoint Waterford’s Craig McCarthy (16-12) but Stephen now too faces a huge step up in this evening’s action, up against former European Union light-welterweight champion and last year’s beaten finalist, John Joe Joyce.

In the highly competitive middleweight division, recently crowned European U23 champion Jason Quigley had a comfortable 21-7 win over a game Chris Blaney, but in the process had a far tougher workout than he would have liked, given that he is now drawn to meet reigning champion and Irish Olympic boxing team captain Darren O’Neil this evening. Even with the minor distraction of Frampton/Martinez also taking place at the same time up the road in Belfast, that will be one to watch!

In the final two men’s bouts of the evening, both in the heavyweight division, Moate’s Kenneth Okungbowa looked a real contender in subduing the challenge of Bernard O’Reilly and will ask some real questions of current champion Tommy McCarthy this evening, while Jimmy Sweeney, also in search of his first title, was too good for the experienced Christy Joyce, last year’s beaten finalist. He now faces Stephen Ward.

In the only women’s fight of the night, Joanna Barcley’s long reach proved too much of an obstacle for the punchier Patrique Kelly in the 69kg division.

The championships continue today in the National Stadium at 2pm, the evening session then timed for 7pm.

- In other news, amateur boxing looks set to return to the days of yore. Protective headgear, which was introduced in the mid-80s and has been a feature of every Olympics since Seoul, is about to be removed. It will remain for the duration of these championships but will no longer be compulsory in Irish boxing from March 31 this year, with the European championships set to be the first major championship to feature the new/old rules.

Picture: Steven Donnelly, right, All Saints, exchanges punches with Craig McCarthy, St. Paul's Waterford, during their 69kg bout. Picture: SPORTSFILE

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