Darren and Clare chase gold

Kilkenny fighters, Darren O’Neill and Clare Grace, will be gunning for gold in the National Stadium on Friday and Saturday night.

Kilkenny fighters, Darren O’Neill and Clare Grace, will be gunning for gold in the National Stadium on Friday and Saturday night.

O’Neill will be hoping to break new ground in what is his 10th national senior championship by taking his first Elite heavyweight (91kgs) title on Friday.

And 24 hours later European bronze medallist, Clare Grace will be chasing a fourth consecutive Elite crown in the 69kgs division.

The experienced Paulstown man, a four times champion at middleweight in the past, will be giving around a stone and a half to giant opponent, Ken Okungbowa (Athlone), who has fought at super heavyweight in the past.

“He is a good bit heavier than me,” O’Neill said when he spoke to the ’People. “He is a big fellow. He is very strong. He did a bit of kick boxing, as well. I can’t allow it develop into a brawl.”

The former Olympian admitted he had “fallen back in love with boxing again” after losing his appetite during the past 18 months or so.

A return to familiar pastures, and training in his home club of Paulstown with his father, Ollie, helped reignite the passion. The step up the weights also put a stirring new challenge in front of him.

“I have been around,” Darren said. “I have been at all the major championships but to face up to someone of Okungbowa’s size and strength is a whole new challenge.”

Only last March O’Neill was chasing national honours in the 75kgs division.

“This division is 16 kilos heavier,” he continued. “I weight in at 86.9 kilos after my breakfast and lunch, which is over four kilos under the limit.

“My opponent is coming down from the high nineties to make 91. These lads are still at least a stone heavier than me. That is not even taking into account their size.

“They have the size to wrestle. He is very strong and can hit hard. I know I have power. But he would have the strength to push you back. Trying to push these guys off can sap your energy when they lie in.

“They can also take a shot a bit better than the lighter guys.”

O’Neill insisted he was ready: “I am back where I want to be, in a national final. Finals are what it is all about. This is all about turning up on the night and performing.”

Clare Grace will face Christina Desmond (Macroom) in her final after eliminating Jenny Duffy (St Fergal’s, Bray) in the semi-finals.

Desmond is a former gold medal winner at the Youth Olympics, and is reckoned to be a hardy performer. Grace, a winner in all the under-age divisions, is chasing her 11th national title.

The Callan BC member has been invited by former Olympian, Michael Carruth, to box in America in March.