Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
INPHO/Cathal Noonan O'Neill (red) beat Derek Duhig in the 75kg semi-finals.
# Fight night
Ready to rumble: how Darren O'Neill fell back in love with boxing
Kilkenny middleweight is gunning for his fifth national title when he meets Michael O’Reilly on Friday night.

LONDON 2012 OLYMPIAN Darren O’Neill has fallen back in love with boxing ahead of his appearance in yet another Irish Elite final at Dublin’s National Stadium on Friday night.

The Kilkenny southpaw, who stopped Derek Duhig in the semi-finals last weekend, meets Michael O’Reilly, who claimed silver for Ireland at the 2011 European Youth Championships, in Friday’s middleweight final.

O’Reilly (Portlaoise BC) beat Christy Joyce on a unanimous decision in the corresponding last-four clash to book his ticket into his first Elite final.

Ten male finals will be decided on Friday night. The women’s finals will be held on Saturday evening. The men’s finals will be televised live and exclusive on TG4.

O’Neill, who captained Team Ireland at the London Olympics two years after he won silver at the European Championships at the Ice Palace in Moscow, will be appearing in his eighth Elite final next weekend.

He lost three of those finals to Beijing 2008 silver and bronze medallists Kenneth Egan and Darren Sutherland. He’s won four. However, the Kilkenny southpaw (Paulstown BC) has dismissed talk of a “high five” on Friday.

“I’ll be aiming for one title next weekend, just the one. I’m taking it one final at the time and not thinking about the five, he said.

“I’m happy to be back in the ring and back down at middleweight for the first time in a year.

“It great to have had a few fights going in. Last year I had nothing between the Olympics and the nationals.

Billy Walsh and Zaur Anita with Darren O'Neill INPHO / Dan Sheridan O'Neill in action at the London Olympics. INPHO / Dan Sheridan / Dan Sheridan

O’Neill crashed out of the 2013 Elite Championships at the quarter-final stage to Jason Quigley on a count back after a 13-13 tie. Quigley, who did not enter the Championships
this year, went on to win his first Irish Elite title.

That victory was the launching pad for a gold medal win at the European Elite Championships in Belarus and a silver medal win at the World Elite Championships in Kazakhstan last year.

The podium finishes in Minsk and Central Asia rocketed the Donegal fighter from relative obscurity to No.2 in the AIBA World rankings.

O’Neill, a school teacher by trade, admitted that he wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

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“Last year, against Jason Quigley, it took me two and a half rounds to get going. I think everybody could see the rust,” he added.

I was only at about 65 per cent, but that was last year and I’m not going to dwell on that. It was important to get back in and I got a few fights under my belt in the last few months and, whether I was at full fitness for them or not, I thought it was better to get in rather than sit on the side-line trying to get back to full fitness first.

“I’m grateful I had them, and I’m looking forward to the final. Michael [O'Reilly] is a good boy; he’s very, very awkward. I know it’s not going to be an easy fight. Still, if I can impose myself on him, I should be able to use my experience.

“Middleweight has been our best weight throughout the years. Kenny Egan was there against me for the first few years, the next year I broke a thumb the Friday before the championships started, and then I had Darren Sutherland against me.

“Last year wasn’t great. I had a torn cartilage in my shoulder and, outside the ring, with not being working and the come down from the Olympics, I just wasn’t enjoying my boxing. I wasn’t enjoying training.

“I took a month or two off. There wasn’t any squad training at the time. I trained back at home with my Dad and my brother and I began enjoying it again. I was back where I was when I was a kid, doing it because I love it, and that’s why I’m here now.

“Having a job now is a great help. Over the years, whenever I had difficulty with the job situation, I think people could see that my performances dipped.

“You don’t need an external distraction and now that I don’t have it, I’m enjoying things a lot more,” concluded the former AIBA World No.3 ranked middleweight.

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