By Leonard Gunning
Now that we have seen the end of the most exhilarating and exciting, not to mention busiest, year in Irish professional boxing since St. Patrick drove the snakes from the Emerald Isle the time has come for BoxingScene.com to hand out plaudits to those that have shone brightest this year in Ireland’s professional fight game.
Irish Fighter of the Year
Ireland gained two new European champions in Matthew Macklin and Paul McCloskey and should have had a third in Martin Rogan; in any normal year each candidate would have accomplished enough to take the gong.
However, this was no ordinary year and despite Bernard Dunne’s clubbing defeat at the hands of Thailand’s Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, his superb victory over Ricardo Cordoba and subsequent acquisition of the WBA super bantamweight strap was sufficient for Dunne to be conferred with title of 2009 Irish Fighter of the Year.
Notwithstanding a similar defeat to Kiko Martinez, Dunne’s popularity in Ireland has never been as high. The Irish general public, who once considered Dunne too cocky and arrogant, have warmed to the Neilstown man’s recent displays of courage and heart in the ring and his humility in defeat. With Rendall Munroe potentially moving towards a tilt at the WBC title this may leave the door open for Dunne to snatch back his old European title in 2010.
Fight of the Year
Well we certainly ain’t been shy of candidates in this department now have we?! Martin Rogan wanted to capture this award so much that he went through a number of chaotic and dramatic wars in an attempt to grab it for himself.
Firstly, dethroning European and Commonwealth champion Matt Skelton in April and then losing via a very controversial stoppage to Sam Sexton in May, Rogan certainly gave his Belfast fans plenty of fistic enjoyment this year. As did fellow Belfast fighter Martin Lindsay whose destruction of Paul Appleby thrilled those luck enough to be inside a packed Ulster Hall and the rest of us viewing of SKY Sports. But there could really only be one winner in this category and it was worthy of title World Fight of the Year let alone one that just involved an Irish fighter.
More eagerly awaited than Pacquiao’s blood test results, more atmosphere than Saturn, more theatrics than a Broadway production, more punches thrown than a Saturday night out in Manchester and more knockdowns than a Renda-Samuels scrap, quite simply Dunne-Cordoba had it all and the combatants gave it their all.
I along with most other Irish punters didn’t hold out much hope for Dunne in the lead up to his first ever world title shot at Dublin’s O2 Arena in March. But the heavy underdog proved me, them, the bookies and the world wrong in one of the most astonishing fights I have ever witnessed.
Music blared and the crowd roared whilst a battered and bruised yet resilient and determined Dunne rose from two knockdowns in the fifth stanza to bring this the brutal battle to an end in the eleventh round after unleashing venomous onslaught on Corboda who at this stage was a shell of the fighter from the early rounds.
With Dunne behind on all three judges’ scorecards he required a stoppage to prevent the title leaving his native Dublin. Dunne sent Cordoba crashing to the canvas three times in the final round of the savagely beautiful fight before referee Hubert Earle called a halt to proceedings. The fearless pair of gallant warriors provided an exhilarating and gruelling battle that all inside the arena will never forget – the crowd may have arrived as doubters but they left believers!
All Domestic Fight of the Year
Whilst Neil Sinclair-Henry Coyle was worthy undercard support to Rogan-Sexton I and Anthony Fitzgerald and Rob Long traded victories in some of the best action on these shores for some time (we all look forward to the rubber match in 2010!) it was ‘The Battle of Tallaght’ that had all in the domestic scene talking in 2009.
Everyone knows that Oisin Fagan is “as game as a pheasant and tough as ould boots” and Eddie Hyland comes from a family of warriors that Genghis Khan would be proud of – so the match up already made for a mouth watering prospect on paper.
As former sparring partners they were well aware of each other’s inimitable talents. Before the fight they vowed to honour the memory of recently departed Arturo Gatti with a Gatti-Ward style brawl. Neither man disappointed the crowd nor besmirched the memory of Gatti by serving up 12 rounds of toe-to-toe action for an IBF International title.
In the end the scorecards adjudged Hyland the victor by a relatively wide points margin. The Golden Cobra fighter’s cleaner work was enough to draw the judges eye and steal the rounds from a marauding Fagan, but the scores didn’t reflect the effort and entertainment that the Gael Force provided in this epic domestic battle.
Comeback of the Year
Someone must have added something to the water of a trio of veteran Ulster fighter in 2009 as Darren Corbett, Wayne McCullough and Neil Sinclair were each determined to make their mark on the scene. On paper they looked an unlikely bunch - Corbett had only one fight in 5 years, despite previous illustrious honours McCullough hasn’t won in that time and Sinclair hadn’t beaten anyone of consequence in even longer.
Whilst Corbett put up a good performance he ultimately failed to capture the Prizefighter crown, despite intermittent rumblings about a clash with Bernard Dunne or any of the three Hyland brothers. McCullough never made a return in 2009 but Sinclair definitely did make his mark.
At the age of 35 the Belfast veteran’s star was on the wane as a result of inactivity and a loss to Daniele Petrucci in Italy for the EU title. Some felt his career was over but a band of loyal followers in the northern capital knew otherwise. In May, Sinclair took the Irish middleweight title with a knockout victory over County Mayo prospect Henry Coyle in a real crossroads encounter and followed this up with a stoppage win over Hungarian journeyman Janos Petrovics leaving us in no uncertain terms that there is life in the old dog yet.
With potential domestic blockbusters against either John Duddy or Wicklow’s James Moore mooted for the New Year this highlights the turn around in fortunes for the Breen Gym stalwart.
Breakthrough fighter of the Year
Paul McCloskey was the clear new Irish prospect story of 2008 but to be honest we are pretty shy of a stand out breakthrough this year so I have shared this one between John O’Donnell and Martin Lindsay.
Lindsay’s rise to prominence came following spectacular knockout over Derry Mathews at the 2008. But his real breakthrough came in April 2009 against Scotland's Paul Appleby. Lindsay stylishly stopped the then undefeated British featherweight champion inside six masterful rounds in front of a frenzied home crowd. But with the collapse of sports television station Setanta Sports he had to endure an unwanted extended period out of ring as Hayemaker Promotions were left without a television deal. The Immaculata club man then blew off some cobwebs in November by earning a routine eight round points victory over Ghanaian Alfred Tetteh on the McCloskey-Rasilla undercard.
London based Galwayman, O’Donnell, suffered a crushing loss in 2007 on the undercard of the Mayweather-De La Hoya bill to Christian Solano and this raised questions over his stamina. Throughout 2008 he re-established himself with 5 straight victories over journeymen, which in turn set up Commonwealth title fight with Manchester’s Craig Watson. O’Donnell prevailed in this closely contested and then obliterating brickie Tom Glover in September to top off a cracking 2009 for the slick southpaw.
The Bernard Dunne phenomenon has seen an explosion of shows around Ireland, both north and south. As the number of shows increase promoters are forced to seek out new prospects to feed the machine. Mullingar brothers JJ and Paddy McDonagh as certainly exciting additions to the scene as is Belfast’s former amateur star Jamie Conlan and a ripped Gavin Prunty.
But without a doubt the most exciting newcomer to burst onto the scene in 2009 was Belfast’s heavy hitting Carl Frampton. ‘The Jackal’ was an outstanding amateur who despite winning the Irish flyweight title in 2005, a silver medal at the EU championships in 2007 and the Irish featherweight title in 2009 was always destined to become a professional.
Under the tutelage of Billy McKee at the Midland Boxing Club, the culmination of Frampton’s amateur career came with an impressive display against David Oliver Joyce to claim the 57 kilo division title at the Irish Elite championship in February 2009. Ten years previous Bernard Dunne won the same title and like Dunne Frampton has dropped down to super bantamweight and switched codes to the paid ranks.
The switch brought him under the wing of Barry McGuigan and a switch in camp to Gerry Storey’s Holy Family Club. Since making his debut in June the brick fisted Tigers Bay banger has notched up three wins in his first six months as a pro. We look forward to more in the next year.
With the likes of Conlan and Frampton joining the scene, Lee and Duddy on the verge of a mega bucks fight with Pavlik, McCloskey and Macklin ready to challenge for world honours and the return of Bernard Dunne 2010 looks like it has just as much to offer as 2009.
Shona bliain nua an tacaíochta dornálaíocht!