Big wins, major titles, countless great fights – it’s been a year to remember.
However, as always, some of the things that stand out in our mind are smaller moments – split-seconds that will go under the radar but are the reason that writing about Irish boxing is a joy.
Here are our eight ‘little things’ from 2017
The Stare – Tyrone McKenna v Jake Hanney
The first big all-Irish fight of the year was a complete war. Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna put his BUI Celtic light welterweight title on the line against Dubliner Jake Hanney at the Waterfront Hall in a feisty March encounter. The first competitive fight of the night, the bout in a way kick-started boxing in Ireland in 2017. Both threw bombs from the opening bell before a clash of heads saw McKenna cut in the second. This however did not slow the pace and the pair went hell for leather in the closing seconds of the stanza, with Hanney shipping some heavy shots to the bell before they locked eyes as the crowd went wild in a truly epic moment.
Watch the end of Round 2 from McKenna v Hanney below (skip to 7:35mins):
The Nod – Stephen McAfee
Over 40 new fighters turned pro this year, so it takes a lot to stand out. This was no problem for former kickboxer and Irish semi pro champion Stephen McAfee who produced a contender for KO of the Year in his debut fight back in May. It wasn’t just the heavy left hook that put Marcin Fincer down for the final time that was so special though. McAfee went about his business at the National Stadium with a real swagger, letting his personality shine through and instantly becoming a character in a crowded scene. When the end finally came, McAfee stood over his vanquished foe, nodding and talking, in what was a real debut statement.
Watch Stephen McAfee knock out Marcin Ficner below:
The Shock – Paul Hyland Jr
Ireland is a small island and our fighters are usually the underdogs – maybe not in a given fight, but in the boxing game. We have a domestic scene which is intrinsically linked to England, and boxers will always need to go above and beyond to carve out their spot. It’s all about taking one’s opportunities when they come, and while many have been edged out, boxed within themselves, or just been plain unlucky, Belfast’s Paul Hyland Jr went out and grabbed his chance with both gloves. Given a prominent spot on the first Sky Sports show of the year at the Odyssey in June, Hylo went out and sensationally stopped Adam Dingsdale in the opening round. Not a noted puncher, there was a wonderful moment after the first knockdown when the Lagmore lightweight ran to the neutral corner and stood wide-eyed, almost shocked at what had occurred while furritively looking to his corner as his father and coach Paul Snr roared him on to finish the job – which he duly did and a new Belfast star was born.
Watch Paul Hyland Jr knock out Adam Dingsdale below:
The Focus – Regan Buckley
Still only 20 years old, Bray flyweight Regan Buckley is your typical ‘baby-faced assassin’ – however, in September he proved his mettle. Just one fight into his career, Buckley found himself elevated to chief support at the National Stadium in a domestic dust-up with Carl McDonald that really captured the imagination. While his older, bigger, more experienced opponent had come into the bout promising to hurt him, Buckley took it all in his stride and, from the first steps of his ringwalk, you knew ‘The Rocket’ meant business. Going from the pop-y See You Again into Three 6 Mafia’s It’s a Fight, Buckley came to the ring with a ferociously focused scowl, staring through McDonald, and looking like he owned the ring. The intent was clear – ‘I am The Man’
Watch Regan Buckley’s walk-in below:
The Delight – Paschal Collins and Niall Kennedy
The Celtic Warriors Gym has suffered it’s fair share of losses in recent years. As pointed to earlier, its fighters are usually the underdogs on the bigger stages, the B-sides, and as such there have been a number of losses in big fights. Spike O’Sullivan v Chris Eubank Jr, Steve Ormond v Terry Flanagan and Craig Evans, Pajo Hyland v Gary Russell Jr and Josh Warrington, and Luke Keeler v Tom Doran to name a few. That run was bucked in September in Connecticut when Niall Kennedy put on a brilliant performance to upset Alexis Santos and take the New England heavyweight title. The verdict was met with pure joy (captured perfectly by Emily Harney) and it was heartwarming to see coach Paschal Collins celebrate deliriously after cornering his biggest win in years – and since that night the gym has gone on a run of big results culminating with Spike O’Sullivan v Antoine Douglas earlier this month.
Watch Niall Kennedy and Paschal Collins celebrate their win over Alexis Santos below:
The Fist Pump – Jono Carroll
The opening fight of a TV card is usually nothing major, as the arena fills up and focus is on the bigger bouts on the bill. Jono Carroll though had the Odyssey in the palm of his hand in November. The Dunshaughlin super feather was getting the crowd going from the moment he started his ring walk for his fight with Humberto De Santiago, and proceeded to tear into the Mexican from the opening bell. With the thousands in attendance falling in love with Carroll with every passing punch, ‘King Kong’ turned it on at the close of the second round, bullying De Santiago to the ropes and letting loose before rousing the crowd after the bell as 90s dance anthem ‘Kernkraft 400’ by Zombie Nation kicked in – the party had started.
Watch Jono Carroll raise the roof at the Odyssey below:
The Applause – Iago Barros
Spanish lightweight Iago Barros gave Martin Quinn a real test at the National Stadium in December, pushing the Crumlin lightweight hard for four rounds – indeed he was probably deserving of a draw. Coming to win and not looking to spoil, Barros endeared himself to the Dublin crowd and at the conclusion of the bout – won 39-37 by Quinn – he stood at centre ring and saluted all four sides of the Stadium. What started as a ripple of applause soon saw every man, woman, and child clapping ‘El Pitbull’ in a moment that would make you proud to be an Irish boxing fan.
The Giant – Jay Byrne
Loughlinstown welterweight Jay Byrne ruffled a few feathers this year. Refusing to go the ‘traditional’ prospect route, Byrne took and lost fights to top prospects in Britain but saw his path vindicated in December. His record did not look good, but Byrne won the mental, physical, and tactical battles against unbeaten prospect and former top amateur Crank Whitehouse to claim a fourth round stoppage and win the BUI Celtic title. As the bout was waved off, Byrne ran to the corner and jumped onto the ropes – not the fourth, not the third, but the second, towering over the National Stadium. He had ripped up the rulebook and proved most of the Irish boxing establishment wrong.
— Graham Kelly (@grahamkelly1888) December 3, 2017