London 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill believes he can claim a fifth National Elite Boxing title against towering Athlone heavyweight Ken Okungbowa on Friday night. O’Neill, who has moved up to heavyweight after winning four belts at middleweight, beat Dublin’s John Joe McDonagh in Saturday’s 91kg semi-final at Dublin’s National Stadium to reach his 9th Elite final.
Okungbowa overcame Ulster’s Stephen McMonagle in the other semi to set up a three-rounder with the 2011 European Elite silver medallist. O’Neill said: “Ken is a big, strong man. You can see that just by his definition. It is going to be a test as I’m moving up to heavyweight for the first time. He’s going to physically pressure me.
“He has long arms but I have enough boxing to navigate my way around that. I don’t want to stand and trade, I think I have enough in my arsenal to combat him. John Joe was tricky. Some people may have underestimated him but I didn’t. I didn’t box my best but at the same time I had enough in the tank to get the job done.”
Meanwhile, former Elite champion Roy Sheahan and Matthew Tinker both won on Saturday. Tinker was beaten in the 2014 final by Joe Ward, who has relinquished the light-heavy belt because he has inked a deal with AIBA Pro Boxing.
“We entered two in the Championships and we have two in the finals. You can’t do any better than that at this point, but the job is only half done now,” said coach Ken Moore of the St Francis club in Limerick.
World No. 8 Claire Grace, meanwhile, will meet Irish Youth Olympic Christina Desmond in the women’s 69kg decider after beating Katie Taylor’s Bray BC team-mate Jessica Duffy.
Defending middleweight champion Michael O’Reilly, Stephen Broadhurst, Dean Gardiner and Kelly Harrington also progressed to next weekend’s finals.