Darren O’Neill completes fairytale boxing comeback with eighth title


Darren O’Neill’s fairytale comeback is over after the 2012 Olympian won his eighth senior title at Saturday’s elite national championships.

O’Neill, who captained the Irish squad at those London matches, ended his four-year hiatus in the ring with one week’s notice to enter this year’s showpiece.

He duly pulled off that quick second act, beating Faolain Rahill (DCU, Dublin) by unanimous decision at 86kg.

O’Neill again denied any rusting on the ring with a quick move early on, scoring with a sleek double left-hander to win the first round. Rahill tried to stop that success in the second as the youngster picked up the pace, sometimes effectively deploying his longer levers against the veteran.

It was O’Neill’s more astute shot selection in the final stanza that ultimately told the story, with the Kilkenny fighter becoming the oldest man to claim a senior elite crown.

“Nobody expected me to come back here, including myself,” the 36-year-old then smiled.

“So it’s really amazing.

“For the last few years I’ve been sitting at ringside and I’m like, ‘I’ve got enough for this again!’

“The weekend before the registration deadline this year, I was home and did a few towel rides with my dad. I just put my name after that; I guess it worked!

“The hunger never went away, I always had that little itch. But nobody shoots me back when I’m against the punching bag! So, for the past few weeks, I’ve just readjusted to this. This mentality, the feints and the movement, the timing and the distance. All of these aspects of “feeling”.

“I got two spars, I actually got injured in the second one so it was fantastic! I felt myself falling into it a bit, getting caught up in some stupid blows. Maybe things that wouldn’t normally happen. But luckily, I had enough experience to get by.

“God knows what the next step is; we’ll see! I am getting a little older. And life changes in a way. I got married eight weeks ago – my wife must have sat outside in the car with the dog! She was not allowed in the arena with the restrictions, obviously.

“But yes, the hunger is still there, that edge. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

On the other end of the age spectrum, 18-year-old Jack Marley caught the eye as he made his way to a first triumph at 92kg.

The Monkstown man imposed an early count on Athlone’s Marcin Skalski, with the latter’s eye damage nearly triggering a doctor’s stop in the second round.

In the end, European Under-22 medalist Marley took out his playing foe with minimal fuss, becoming the second youngest Irish heavyweight champion in history.

The weekend’s performance, however, came into the final fight as Waterford’s Kelyn Cassidy leapt to the top of the light heavyweight throne, with the 23-year-old inflicting three standing counts on pre-tournament favorite Tommy Hyde to get a great save in the first lap.

Kelyn Cassidy of Saviors Crystal Boxing Club, Waterford, celebrates after beating Tommy Hyde of St Michael’s Boxing Club, Athy, Kildare, in the 80kg bout. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

Until super heavy, things were pretty routine for Martin Keenan, although not as impressive. Limerick southpaw, who knocked out reigning pivot Kenny Okungbowa in last week’s semi-final, beat Cavan’s Thomas Maughan to take his elite title tally to two.

Gabriel Dossen is now a part of that club as well, with the BC Olympic technician more than living up to his reputation as one of the big names on this year’s dance card.

Former champion Dossen, who missed the 2020 iteration due to injury, forced two counts against Sean Donaghy en route to a second middleweight crown.

Tribe member Adam Hession also doubled his collection in the senior code, with his greater polish and stiffer shots thwarting Sean Purcell in their featherweight face-to-face.

Oughterard’s Kieran Molloy gave Galway a hat trick – and scored a hat-trick – when he beat Luke Maguire in a thrilling but difficult fight at 71kg. Molloy, two-time welterweight champion on this stage before, can now be called a three-time winner.

Elsewhere at the National Stadium, the 2021 lightweight showcase between Shannon Sweeney and Carol Coughlin kicked off the televised portion of tonight’s card. As in previous meetings of the duo, Sweeney’s more varied repertoire did the trick for the 2018 champion to reign supreme again.

It was also an unforgettable day for Dublin teenager Eve Woods, who dutifully sent veteran Gillian Duffy to clinch the 63kg prize on her first outing at this level.

Featherweight Letterkenny puncher Paddy McShane just had too much for fellow rookie Paudraic Downey.

Likewise, Kaci Rock scored a decisive victory in the 66kg division. Daughter of serial champion Jim, the 19-year-old scored her first welterweight success, forcing an umpire save against an overwhelmed Keisha Attwell in arms.

In keeping with the theme of the day, longtime amateur tyro Caitlin Fryers grabbed her first adult Irish Crown, beating compatriot Nicole Clyde in a 50kg Antrim derby.

There was another all-Antrim set in the lightweight men’s ranks as John Paul Hale and Dominic Bradley fought for the 60kg supremacy, with the biggest ballast of the former winning the bout and bragging rights on this occasion. .

The decorated Daina Moorehouse quickly followed with a unanimous decision verdict, nullifying the hard-hitting size and style of Niamh Earley to become a senior double-weight champion.

It was not to be for European youth supremo Niamh Fay however, with the Ballyboughal boxer falling on the wrong side of the split decision against his esteemed counterpart Sara Haghightat-Joo.

The Canadian, who rolls out of St. Brigid’s in Offaly, has a Pan Am silver on her resume, and that class shone in what ranked among the stellar shows of the night.

With Michaela Walsh, de facto leader of the 57 kg, present but not in competition, the pressure was on Dubliners Jennifer Lehane. [DCU] and Kellie McLoughlin [Drimagh] excel in his stead. To his credit, it was Lehane who rose to the challenge, outwitting and neutralizing his larger opponent to secure a deserved but unexpected victory.

In the men’s welterweight arena, Brandon McCarthy maintained his flawless Irish record with a confident tactical victory over familiar nemesis Jack McGivern.

After Ricky Nesbitt of Louth was forfeited to 48kg to win his first senior championship, another Holy Family BC boxer entered the winning circle when Eugene McKeever edged out Westmeath welterweight Wayne Kelly, his skillful work on the back foot the deciding factor in what was a close competition.

Eugene McKeever (Holy Family, Louth) celebrates after winning his fight.  Image: INPHO / Brian Reilly-Troy
Eugene McKeever (Holy Family, Louth) celebrates after winning his fight. Image: INPHO / Brian Reilly-Troy

Clann Naofa’s Evelyn Igharo then wrapped up a night to remember for Wee County, beating Castlerea’s Lisa O’Rourke to add a 70kg medal to her already impressive collection.

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