The Big Talking Points ahead of the 2021 National Elites

There’s debate over whether they will happen considering the COVID restrictions we currently find ourselves under, but the release of an entry list for the 2021 National Elite Championships has already gotten people excited.

January will play host to a week of fights, tournament-style, to crown Ireland’s top amateurs across the 20 weights.

Beyond this though, there could be even more at stake.

Each of the 207 entrants has a chance of impressing Bernard Dunne and co and many can make an argument for World Olympic qualifiers selection.

That said, there may not be a need to send fighters at certain weights depending on how the in-progress European Olympic qualifiers go. The 43-nation competition was postponed in London just days after it begun back in in March because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Flyweight Brendan Irvine had secured his place on the plane to Tokyo by that stage, while Christina Desmond, Carly McNaul and Kurt Walker all exited the tournament.

Double Olympian

Those initially entered but denied the chance to qualify by cancellation will compete when the tournament is rescheduled. That means George Bates, Aidan Walsh, Michael Nevin, Emmet Brennan, Kiril Afanasev, Dean Gardiner, Michaela Walsh, Kellie Harrington and Aoife O’Rourke still have a guaranteed opportunity to make it to Japan regardless of what happens in January.

However, there are still opportunities for those not on that list to impress and potentially take advantage if Olympic qualification isn’t secured at their weight via the European qualifiers.

There was controversy and even anger last year following the withdrawal of seven of the biggest names on the entry list. What was looking set to be the highest quality ‘Seniors’ in some time lost a lot of its shine when some of the names eventually selected for the Olympic qualifiers withdrew.

It denied the neutral a ‘best versus the best’ Seniors and some fighters the chance to stake a genuine #1 claim.

That doesn’t seem to be the case this year as all those set for the Qualifiers have entered. It’s believed that there is a High Performance school of thought, that competitive action will enhance their qualification chances, and late pull outs are not expected.

If anything, the release of the entry list provides us with some big talking points ahead of the week of fights in January.

Irish-Boxing.com will preview the tournament in detail closer to the time – the entry weights themselves won’t be finalised until next month. For now, here are some initial eye-catching sparks and a look at just a small handful of the big names and stories.

If entered at the same weight and drawn against each other, Kellie Harrington versus Amy Broadhurst would prove to be the most eagerly anticipated domestic female fight of all time. Indeed, it could prove the most high profile National Elite contest in recent times. Similarly, Grainne Walsh and Christina Desmond’s was a highlight clash last year and both International level operators have entered again.

Gabriel Dossen returns after a period of injury and there will be excitement surrounding a possible fight between him fellow rising prospect, rival, and friend Michael Nevin.

However, the real intrigue around 75kgs, if he can make that weight, will be the return of Michael O’Reilly. The gifted Portlaoise natural talent has already proved himself Olympic worthy having qualified for Rio 2016, only to suffer a four-year suspension after a failed drug test.

Another returning name is Darren O’Neill, the fighter formerly known as ‘Mr IABA’ was set to turn over in late 2019, only for his debut card to fall through. The Olympian has a trio of heavyweight titles to his name. Indeed the Kilkenny native has never lost a domestic heavyweight fight at the National Stadium and his presence will add further narrative to one of the bigger weight classes. It also raises the question of whether reigning super heavyweight champion Kenny Okungbowa steps down in weight to continue his entertaining rivalry with O’Neill – and how champion Kirill Afanasev fares.

Definitely at Super heavyweight will be Thomas Carty who goes into the tournament on the back of camps spent sparring Derek Chisora and Lawerence Okolie. Rumour has it he is studying a number of pro offers, but will set the contracts aside in a bid to win a first ever National Elite Senior crown. ‘Big Breakfast’ Dean Gardiner is back this year meaning to do so the Dub would have to overcome the usual stiff challenges and the long reigning #1. As well as the usual suspects, Gytis Lisinskas is another who is improving, has recently garnered some IABA support, and appears to have potential at the weight.

Kristina O’Hara McCafferty is another who is back in the tournament, having not fought in two years. The Commonwealth Games silver medalist adds further intrigue to the 51kg Olympic weight. A flyweight category with Ceire Smith, Carly McNaul and McCafferty is certainly an exciting mix.

In fairness there a host of weights such attract interest. Light heavyweight has been one of the more competitive weights of recent years and with champion Emmet Brennan, recent champion Thomas O’Toole, and young talents Tommy Hyde and Kane Tucker, it could be a weight to watch out for despite the departures of Tony Browne and Paul McCullagh to the pros.

The welterweight division could see another interesting clash between Aidan Walsh and a revenge-hungry Kieran Molloy while some will watch on with interest as how European Schoolboys gold medallist and Conor McGregor sparring partner Willo Hayden does if he enters at 69kg.

The young guns that dominated the headlines last November and come into this instalment as big players. There will be more interest in the performances of teen hopes like Evelyn Igharo, Daina Moorehouse, Davey Oliver Joyce Jr, and Brandon McCarthy and it will be interesting to see if any of them have switched to Olympic weights. Could Paris 2024 dreams be transferred into Tokyo 2020 2021 dreams?

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: [email protected]