A night of World class boxing and the return of Katie Taylor to competitive action for the first time since she won gold at the London Olympics ended on a poignant note after Ken Egan announced his retirement from inside the ring he has graced for over a decade on Friday night.
The 31-year-old Dubliner said that he was hanging up his gloves following his third successive defeat to Joe Ward in an Elite Championships light-heavyweight final at Dublin’s National Stadium.
Egan’s surprise announcement arrived almost twelve years to the day since he beat Conal Carmichael 11-6 to claim his first Elite title at middleweight on February 23, 2001.
The Beijing 2008 silver medallist, one of the most decorated Irish and international boxers of his generation, was well beaten by 19-year-old Ward, the current European champion running out a 25-5 victor to secure his third consecutive belt before his 20th birthday.
Ward, gracious in victory, was the first to lead the tributes to his fellow southpaw and Ireland team-mate
He said: “Ken Egan is a wonderful boxer, has been a wonderful ambassador for Ireland. I wish him all the best in his retirement and hope he goes on to achieve all he now wants to achieve. It’s sad this day had to come but it’s like any other legend, it has to end sometime.”
His legacy as one of Ireland’s greatest exponents of the noble art intact, Egan, who received a sustained standing ovation from a packed National Stadium after his announcement, said that he believed that the final bell on his 13th straight Elite final was a fitting occasion to retire.
He said: ” This day was always going to come but I thought tonight would be fitting for it. I don’t think I could go any further with the talent that’s in the wings.
“Joe is an exceptional talent and improving all the time. I thought I’d test him this year but he’s getting that bit better all the time and it’s brilliant to see.”
Meanwhile, London 2012 Olympian Adam Nolan was celebrating on the double after retaining his welterweight title and also scooping the Boxer of the Tournament award.
Nolan produced an excellent display of counter-punching in the opening two rounds against 2009 champion Willie McLaughlin, but the Donegal man came storming back in the third stanza of a thrilling contest to test the Wexford-born southpaw.
Nolan, however, weathered the storm to secure a 23-12 win – and his third Elite belt in-a-row.
Elsewhere on Friday, Belfast’s Michael Conlan showed his class to nail his third Elite flyweight crown with a third successive victory over Kildare’s Chris Phelan.
“The plan was to keep moving against Chris, he’s a good strong fighter, you need to be fit. My footwork was key, it prevailed in there tonight,” said the London 2012 bronze medallist.
Meanwhile, it isn’t often an Irish boxer has to overcome a current European champion to retain his belt, but that’s exactly what Ross Hickey had to do versus Ray Moylette before claiming his third title in-a-row and his fourth overall at different weights since 2008.
The Grangecon BC southpaw edged the first 4-3, but was rocked backward by a big right from Moylette in the second round of an explosive light-welter clash. Moylette, ranked No. 8 in the world by AIBA, won the second 5-4 to level it at 8-8, but the classy Hickey, working superbly behind his jab, won the third 7-3 to earn a 15-11 decision.
Declan Geraghty, who obliged Gary McKenna to take a standing count off a right in the first, and rangy Belfast southpaw Seam McComb secured the vacant bantam and lightweight titles.
McComb, who boxes out of the Holy Trinity BC in Belfast, had too much fire power for George Bates and was 12-5 up and cruising going into the third, while 2009 champion Geraghty was always on top against McKenna.
European U/23 champion Jason Quigley, who eliminated London 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill in the last-eight, beat former Elite champion Roy Sheahan, to secure the middleweight crown.
Quigley certainly had to reach the top the hard way, the 2009 European Youth champion winning four bouts at the Championships over the last three weekends.
Belfast heavyweight Tommy McCarthy – who KO’d Christy Joyce in the third round to win his first 91kg title in 2012 – KO’d Jimmy Sweeney in the third round to win his second 91kg title in 2013.
Sweeney was right in this up to the third, but after he took a standing count off a left-right combo from the 2008 World Youth bronze medallist going down the final stretch the writing was on the wall.
In the opening final of the session, Hugh Myers collected the vacant light-fly belt after winning two and sharing one round against Antrim’s Thomas J. Waite.
The Ryston BC orthodox’s three and four-punch combinations, culminating in a big overhand right two minutes in, opened up a 4-2 advantage by the end of the first.
Waite upped his work rate in the second and had his moments, particularly with a neat left-right combo mid-way through a frame which finished level.
“I felt tired going into the last round but I got a second wind from somewhere. I had to throw more punches in the last round – the first and second were just about taking the lead, then cover up, try and get the punches in, said Myers.
“I’ll get to enjoy it for a week, then back in the gym”, he added, having won the belt vacated by two-time Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes, who withdrew before the start of the Championships with the flu.
Belfast’s Michaela Walsh, the defending women’s featherweight champion, and Monaghan’s Joanna Lambe battled all the way down to the final bell.
Both boxers were tied at 8-8 going into the fourth before Walsh found an extra gear to edge the final stanza 6-5 and secure her fourth Irish title.
Kelly Harrington and Dervla Duffy, who completed the double for the Ryson BC, were the only two boxers fighting out of the blue corner to win.
Harrington finished on top of the light-welter podium following a hard-fought verdict over Sarah Close and Duffy stopped Michelle Lynch in the second. Duffy was 12-2 up when the four-rounder was halted.
Sean Turner took home the vacant super-heavyweight belt following a convincing victory over Niall Kennedy, the Dubliner winning all three rounds to post a 21-8 decision.
Katie Taylor recorded the 133rd win of her 140-bout career at the expense of Poland’s Karolina Graczyk in a special support contest.
The Polish lightweight deserves credit for seeing this contest out to the final bell, as Taylor, following a relatively tentative opening by her standards, began finding the target with venomous three and four -punch combinations in the second and third, Graczyk taking two standing counts in the second.
Taylor was 23-5 ahead going into the fourth, which she won 5-0. It was another comprehensive triumph for the World No. 1, who said she was delighted to return to competitive action for the first time since her heroics at the 30th Olympiad.
Later Taylor added : “The fans have been incredible for me over these last few years so it’s great to fight in front of them. She was a quality opponent and it was good to get back in the ring.”
“I’ve done rounds and rounds of sparring over the last few months but there is nothing like getting into the ring and boxing and getting the ring rust out”
Seventy male and twenty eight female boxers competed at the 2013 National Elite Championships
2013 Elite Championships Finals National Stadium Dublin February 22nd
(1) 49kg: (Light-flyweight) – Hugh Myers (Ryston) beat TJ Waite (Cairn Lodge) 17-8
(2) 57kg: (Featherweight) – Michaela Walsh (Holy Family) beat Joanna Lambe (Carrickmacross) 14-13
(3) 52kg: (Flyweight) – Michael Conlan (St John Bosco) beat Chris Phelan (Ryston) 20-9
(4) 64kg: (Light-welter) – Ross Hickey (Grangecon) beat Ray Moylette (St Anne’s) 15-11
(5) 56kg: (Bantamweight) – Declan Geraghty (Crumlin) beat Gary McKenna (Old School) 16-7
(6) 60kg: (Lightweight) – Sean McComb (Holy Trinity) beat George Bates (St Mary’s) 19-7
(7) 75kg: (Middleweight) – Jason Quigley (Finn Valley) beat Roy Sheahan (St Michael’s Athy) 15-6
(8) 91kg: (Heavyweight) – Tommy McCarthy (Oliver Plunkett) beat Jimmy Sweeney (Drimnagh) KO3
(9) 81kg: (Light-heavyweight) – Joe Ward (Moate) beat Ken Egan (Neilstown) 25-5
(10) Additional Bout 60kg: (Lightweight) – Katie Taylor (Ireland) beat Karolina Grazcyk (Poland) 28-5
(11) 69kg: (Welterweight) – Adam Nolan (Bray) beat Willie McLaughlin (Illies GG) 23-12
(12) 54kg: (Bantamweight) – Dervla Duffy(Ryston) beat Michelle Lynch (Golden Gloves) RSC2
(13) 64kg: (Light-welterweight) – Kelly Harrington (Corinthians) beat Sarah Close (Holy Family) 13-10
(14) 91+kg: (Super-heavyweight) – Sean Turner (Drimnagh) beat Niall Kennedy (Gorey) 21-8
Boxer of the Tournament (Adam Nolan, Bray BC)