One of the early highlights was the return to the National Stadium of Michael Conlan, a winning return too on his first appearance on home soil since winning bronze at the London 2012 Olympics.
It was a narky fight against a near-neighbour in west Belfast, Ruairi Daldon, an ultimately convincing 30-14 win but no love lost in this their fifth meeting. Michael had won the previous four but still he felt he had something to prove.
“I read on Tuesday where he (Ruairi) said there was only a point or two in a couple of the fights — one could have gone either way but the other one I was coming back from pneumonia and still beat him. Tonight proves he’s not in my class. I’m better than him, always will be. He’ll never beat me, it’ll be 6-nil, 7-nil.”
It wasn’t just during the week either that Dalton had been trash-talking, said Michael. “I’m a bit angry with him because we were mates, kind of, after I’d beaten him four times, but in the ring he was giving me a bit of lip, calling me all kinds of bad names. I just laughed it off. It was 30-14 — I predicted I’d score 30 against him. I’m happy with the win but I’ll probably have a tougher fight in the final, Chris Phelan or Hughie Joyce. I can’t see Chris losing, he’s a really good boxer. We’ve fought twice but it will be 3-0 over Chris, three Irish titles.”
This might be seen by some as arrogance; not so, says the man now ranked third in the world — simply realism. “I feel I’m far above the domestic level at the minute, the High Performance Unit is one of the best in the world. The experience I’ve gained over the last three or four years has been top-class. I’m training with my brother (Jamie, a pro), training with my Dad. Ye saw the performance Jamie put on (in Belfast last Saturday night, 10th round TKO), he put on a show. I’m sparring with the likes of him and he’s going to be a world-class fighter, sparring with Paddy Barnes, Tyrone McCullough, Stephen Joyce — that’s the best sparring you can get, and all of them heavier than me except for Paddy, and maybe he’s heavier than me too! I don’t care who I fight, for the last however-many-years whoever they put in front of me I’ll beat, even at international level. I don’t care who I’m fighting, it’s just another job on my hands. When I perform not too many people in the world will beat me. I could have been better tonight but I’m happy with the performance — roll on the final now.”
Fight of the night though was undoubtedly in the welterweight division, reigning champion Adam Nolan making the mistake of going toe-to-toe with local hero Brian Brosnan and almost paying the price, Adam’s superb skills eventually seeing him through, 28-21.
This was followed by an all-Ulster middleweight clash between Donegal’s Jason Quigley, conqueror of champion Darren O’Neill, and Belfast’s Conrad Cummings. A belter, close all the way, two heavy-handed hitters who never stood more than three feet apart. Close also at the end but a storming finish was enough to see Quigley through, 17-14.
In the lightweight semi-final, five-time Elite champion (at various weights) Eric Donovan’s all-action style once again proved popular with the large crowd but not as popular with the judges who, despite awarding Eric the final round, gave the nod to the taller Sean McComb on the slimmest of margins, 17-16.
It was a better night for another former champion as St Anne’s Ray Moylette, light-welterweight kingpin of 2010, proved too strong for Holy Trinity’s Sean Duffy, taking all three rounds to record a convincing win. In that final Ray will meet reigning champion Ross Hickey who used all his considerable defensive skills to just hold off Waterford’s energetic Rohan Date, 9-6.
In earlier action, last year’s beaten finalist in the light-flyweight division, Hugh Myers, is hoping to capitalise on the enforced absence of double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes, qualified for next weekend’s final by way of a hard-earned 17-11 win over Adam Courtney.
WOMEN: 48kg: Hannah Carthy (Paulstown) bt Lynn McEnery (St Paul’s), 12-8; Maeve Clarke (Ballinacarrow) bt Emma Duffy (Crumlin), RSC R3.
54kg: Dervla Duffy (Ryston) bt Christine Gargan (St Georges) 16-6.
57kg: Joanne Lambe (Carrickmacross) bt Lindsey Doyle (Gorey) 24-9.
64kg: Kelly Harrington (Corinthians) bt Alanna Audley-Murphy (Eastside) 15-6 69kg: Claire Grace (Callan) bt Joanna Barclay (Holy Family) 27-12; Laoise Traynor (Bray) bt Louis Claire Sweetman (Palmerstown) RSC R3.
MEN: 49kg: Hugh Myres (Ryston) bt Adam Courtney (St Mary’s) 17-11.
52kg: Michael Conlan (St John Bosco) bt Ruairi Dalton (Holy Trinity) 30-14.
56kg: Declan Geraghty (Crumlin) bt Derek Thorpe (St Aiden’s) RSC R2.
60kg: Sean McComb (Holy Trinity) bt Eric Donovan (St Michael’s, Athy) 17-16.
64kg: Ray Moylette (St Anne’s) bt Sean Duffy (Holy Trinity) 18-10; Ross Hickey (Grangecon/Defence Forces) bt Rohan Date (St Pauls) 9-6.
69kg: Adam Nolan (Bray) bt Brian Brosnan (Crumlin) 28-21.
75kg: Jason Quigley (Finn Valley) bt Conrad Cummings (Holy Trinity) 17-14 91kg: Thomas McCarthy (Oliver Plunkett) bt Kris Sikora (St Francis) 18-8 91+kg: Sean Turner (Drimnagh) bt Dean Gardner (Clonmel) 19-12.