Dean Walsh putting it all on the line against Mayo rival Ray Moylette

For the second time inside 11 months, Dean Walsh and Ray Moylette will clash in the standout bout at the finals of the National Elite Championships, but there is more on the line than national pride tonight (live on TG4 from 7.30pm).

Dean Walsh putting it all on the line against Mayo rival Ray Moylette

Back in January, Wexford native Walsh came out the right side of a split-decision verdict over his Mayo rival in the 2015 edition of the national championships, and the light-welterweight (64kg) pair renew acquaintances with an additional incentive this evening.

The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) have opted to host the 2016 championships early to allow time to prepare for next year’s Olympic qualifiers, and the winner of tonight’s rematch will be first in line for the European qualifier in Istanbul next April that offers a passage to the Rio Games.

While such a scheduling decision may appear to be a novel occurrence, there is precedence, as the same approach was adopted in 2003 when that year’s competition was held in the same calendar year as the 2004 tournament ahead of the Athens Olympics.

Tonight’s meeting between Walsh and Moylette will be just the third time that two rivals have met in back-to-back finals during the same year, as Dubliner Paul Hyland defeated Thomas Lee of Oughterard in the 2003-04 flyweight deciders, with Dungiven’s former European pro champion Paul McCloskey also accomplishing the feat at light-welterweight against Dundalk’s Michael Kelly.

Neither Hyland nor McCloskey managed to make it to Athens — current middleweight world champion Andy Lee was Ireland’s only representative at those Games — and Walsh is conscious of making the most of a big opportunity ahead of tonight’s ‘headline’ bout.

“I have a lot to lose — two senior titles and a place at the Olympic trials in April — but so does he. One of our dreams will be broken but it’s not going to be mine, I guarantee that,” said Wexford native Walsh, nephew of former Ireland head coach Billy.

“I don’t take any of my opponents lightly, I know he’s going to want it just as bad as I want it, but I have a win over him and maybe that might play [a part],” continued the 21-year-old on his close-call victory last January.

“He probably thinks I’m going to do the same thing and walk him down but I’ll have a new plan.

“If he wants to get in close, I can adapt to box long and if he wants to move, I can adapt to walk him down and fight him, but from the first to third bell it’s going to be non-stop action.”

Walsh also heads into the bout in somewhat unfamiliar circumstances as this has been his first national senior championships without his uncle Billy in his corner.

His father Dónal has manfully filled the role, although the defending champion is unsure as to whether Billy— who is currently on duty in Sheffield in his new role as USA Boxing’s women’s coach — may make a late appearance.

Nonetheless, the European bronze medallist is happy to continue a family tradition, particularly after the passing of his grandfather, Liam, last year.

“They’re close bonds,” said the St Josephs/Ibars club man. “I’ve had Billy, my granda [Liam] and my dad in the corner so only having one now is a bit tough, but it’s good having your father there, especially when you’re winning titles.” The man standing in Walsh’s way of a hat-trick of consecutive senior titles is Moylette, who was unlucky to be the loser of a ‘pick-em’ fight between the pair earlier this year.

The Westport native’s star has dimmed since his European title win back in 2011, but having set up his own gym in his hometown and revived his passion for boxing, he has shown signs of his old self.

The 25-year-old was in inspirational form when beating his long-time rival Ross Hickey in the 2015 semi-final, and some felt that he may have peaked too soon in advance of his first battle with Walsh.

More recently, Moylette scraped past Athlone’s Wayne Kelly in their semi-final last weekend, while Walsh was forced to slug it out against James Cleary of Galway’s Olympic club.

Both men managed to book a rematch, but Moylette insists he is not out to “right a wrong” after losing their first encounter.

“Not really, I’m not worried about that,” insisted the St Annes club man. “He [Walsh] is just another obstacle in my way and what happened before is gone, I’ve learnt from it, I’ve improved from it.

“As close as it was then — a split decision that could have went any way — to be the champion you have to take it from the champion,” continued Moylette. “When it’s close, maybe the champion does deserve to get it. It’s a rematch this time but it’ll be a different result.” If it lives up to the billing, it should be a battle of champions.

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