Darren O’Neill will enter his 13th Irish Elite Championships this year – not that he has issues with the digit traditionally associated with poor luck.
“I don’t mind the number 13 at all, I was born on Friday the 13th so I can’t complain about it,” said the 2010 European Elite silver medallist and ex AIBA World No. 3 ranked middleweight.
The Paulstown BC southpaw has won six Irish titles at two different weights at this level and will be aiming for number seven at the 2017 edition of the tournament, the first Elite Championships in over a year because the IABA ran the flagship event of Irish boxing twice in 2015 to facilitate Ireland’s boxers going forward into the qualifiers for Rio 2016.
O’Neill, who reached the last 16 at London 2012, claimed two belts in 2015 after beating Ken Okungbowa on a split decision in the heavyweight final in January of that year and Bernard O’Reilly on a unanimous decision in the 91kg decider eleven months later.
“I’m training away as usual, as I’ve always done. I was injured over Christmas because of the English fight, but that’s okay now. I’ve been doing plenty of ring work anyway. I feel sharp and focussed and I’m concentrating on my speed more so than anything and I feel that I am in good shape, added O’Neill who was unlucky not to qualify for his second successive Olympics at Rio 2016 and who is signed with Venezuela in the World Series of Boxing for the upcoming season.
“It will be tough. You’ll be looking at eight or nine that could enter; Kenneth Okungbowa, Bernard O’Reilly, John Joe McDonagh and more, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The Elite Championships will also be used as part of the IABA selection process for the European Men’s Championships in the Ukraine June which will act as the sole qualifier for the World Championships in Germany in August and September.
The former Kilkenny underage hurler has one eye on both tournaments but acknowledged that the road to the Ukraine and Germany begins in Dublin.
“Yes, the Europeans and the Worlds, I feel I have a real chance of doing well at them, but that all depends on how I perform (at the Elite Championships).”
The 2017 Elite Championships begin this Friday night at the National Stadium in Dublin.
Defending Elite Male champions
49kg Stephen McKenna
52kg Brendan Irvine
56kg Kurt Walker
60kg David Oliver Joyce
64kg Dean Walsh
81kg JP Delaney
91kg Darren O’Neill
91+kg Dean Gardiner
Defending Elite Female champions
48kg Lauren Hogan
51kg Michaela Walsh
54kg Dervla Duffy
57kg Moira McElligot
64kg Kellie Harington
69kg Clare Grace
75kg Christina Desmond
81kg Diana Campbell