The 13th Round: Dublin boxing back with a bang

On our way back from the FS Promotions/Hatton Promotions card at the National Stadium on Saturday night, myself and Irish-Boxing.com Editor Jonny Stapleton were in full agreement – that was a great show.

The night could arguably described as ‘one for the purists,’ but there were enough competitive and well-matched scraps for any boxing fan to be entertained.

First up was Galway’s Alan Donnellan who returned from thirteen months of inactivity for a six-round bout with Gabor Zsalek. Donnellan is an intelligent university-educated man with a good job as a quantity surveyor who just happens to love boxing. He doesn’t have World title aspirations, he just wants to be in the ring, and thanked Zsalek numerous times after the final bell for giving him the opportunity. Donnellan perhaps has the ability to drop down to the packed Irish middleweight division, and if he does, great. However, for someone who is just so happy to be in the ring, we would not deny him the decision to do what he loves and ‘just’ have a few more joyous fights with journeymen.

A big storyline in the lead-up to the card was the friendly cross-city rivalry between Dublin light welterweights Sean Creagh and Stephen Carroll. Tallaght’s Creagh obliterated Gyula Tallosi inside two rounds with a 100mp/h body assault in a real statement win to add to his victory last year over Lewis O’Meara.

On the other hand, Ballyfermot fan-favourite Carroll was involved in a crowd-pleasing war with Tamas Laska. Of course, Shortty always had the upper hand, and was outlanding the Hungarian by at least 4 shots to 1.

Based solely on the two performances on Saturday, one would perhaps give a slight edge to the relentless Creagh, however former star amateur Carroll certainly gives the impression of being the sort of fighter whose performance improves with the level of quality he faces.

Next up was the turn of Tyrone McCullagh against Latvian Aleksandr Birkenbergs. The Derry featherweight was slightly disappointed with his performance and joked afterwards that it was the first time he faced a boxer more awkward than himself. While it wasn’t a vintage performance from White Chocolate, he’s certainly proved himself as an exciting attacking boxer after years of being a notoriously awkward amateur with a near-impenetrable defence. His mesh of these two styles, as well as his dedication, certainly gives McCullagh a real chance of making an impact on the 126lb division.

Irish fans finally got to have a look at Dublin’s Jake Hanney who came home from Australia with a massive reputation. Despite 19 months out, Hanney took on the toughest opponent of the night in the form of Nigerian Innocent Anyanwu and gave a performance worthy of his reputation. The Dub has a wide attacking arsenal, with a final round flurry a real eye-catcher, and throws punches with spiteful intentions and a scowl on his face. Understandably, with the lay-off, Hanney was not perfect, and was buzzed with a huge shot in the third, but showed a decent chin and real grit to fight back, and we can’t wait to see him again. Indeed he feels that he can make it down to the lightweight division where he would be an even bigger force.

Paul Hyland Jr, supported by a vocal travelling support, had a facile first round win over Laszlo Fekete. However, if a rumoured Irish lightweight title fight with Michael Devine in September or October occurs, we will most certainly not complain. While it was a shame that Dublin fans did not get to see a trademark Belfast brawl, Team Hyland certainly added to the atmosphere and would be welcomed back with open arms for the next next show.

Perhaps the biggest fighter on the card in terms of media attention, former five-time Elite champion and European bronze medalist Eric Donovan made his debut at the ripe age of 30. While somewhat rusty, the class and pedigree of ‘Lilywhite Lightning’ shone through in his win over Damian Lawniczak. While Father Time might be against the super featherweight, Donovan lives clean and is in great shape, has a good team around him, and is nationally known. A European title is easily within his capabilities, and sure from there onwards who knows?

Next up was Michael Devine. Luton-born but intensely proud of his Irish roots, the occasion was an emotional one for the lightweight. Inside the ring ‘Chunky’ was involved in one of the fights of the night against Vitalijs Usovs. While it was a war at times, Devine showed some good skills. Indeed, it was a Paul Hyland Jr-style fight, and it has put that clash right to the top of our wishlist – whether it be on the September Dublin show, or Mark Dunlop’s Belfast show in October.

Those in the know have sang Bernard Roe’s praises for a long time, but he still came into the ring as an unknown quantity. The Dubliner however marked himself out to be a top quality prospect within seconds, proving why Paschal Collins has taken him on-board at the Celtic Warriors Gym. Fighting an opponent who came to win, Roe showed real maturity against Marcin Cybulski, and it looked like it was the 25 year old’s fourteenth fight, not his fourth. Roe can box, move, fight, and punch, and is a brilliant addition to the Irish scene.

One of our favourite fighters here, Darren Cruise put on a top class performance, scoring a third round knockout of Ferenc Katona, and looked brilliant in the process. The Rossie had real snap in his punches and was technically superb. Army man Cruise goes on active duty this Autumn, making an immediate Irish title fight unlikely, which is a shame (in boxing terms) as on Saturday’s showing he would give Conrad Cummings, Luke Keeler, and Alfredo Meli very tough fights.

Moment of the night goes to Jay Byrne without question. The Dubliner, 29, who only started boxing in the past few years, claimed a second round knockout of Gabor Ambrus in a risky debut fight. The unbridled joy and passion of Byrne as the bout was waved off was a sight to behold, and the footballer could probably retire now a happy man. However, Byrne showed enough to suggest that he can make a real impact on the Irish scene. With sound fundamentals and good shot selection founded upon a piston-like jab, one would swear that he has been boxing his whole life. Perhaps what most impressed me was his near-perfect judgement of range – he did not smother his work at all, unlike many over-excited prospects – as well as his right hand which was superglued to his chin. No bad habits here. A physical specimen already, Byrne is planning to move down to welterweight and Irish title aims are no longer something to be laughed at.

Finally it was the turn of headliner Chris Blaney. The Ricky-Hatton trained ‘Ginger Ninja’ was surprisingly advanced for his debut. Blaney dispatched Czech fighter David Bauza in the second round in what was a very un-Hatton way, staying cool, avoiding everything thrown back at him, and making every one of his own shots count. A light heavy in the amateurs, the Navan man came in at super middleweight, but looked quite fleshy and would easily make it down the 160lbs middleweight limit where he would be a force. Definitely one for the very near future

While the show in Dublin was ongoing, the O2 Arena in London played host to Anthony Joshua’s World title defence with an undercard filled with mismatches, and perhaps the best compliment I can give the ‘The Future’ is that I would take a card like that over a Matchroom PPV show every time.

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]