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Ulstermen to the four as Irvine and Walker shine

By Ciaran Gallagher

Belfast's Brendan Irvine and Kurt Walker both successfully defended their titles at the Irish elite championship finals last night, while Sean McComb and Blaine Dobbins were also also victorious in Dublin.

In the battle of the champions at 56kg, Canal clubman Walker was defending his crown against reigning light-flyweight title holder Stephen McKenna of Old School, Monaghan, who jumped two weight classes.

While Walker was the defending champion, the departure of Michael Conlan to the professional ranks means that the bantamweight title is a particularly coveted prize this year with European and World Championships scheduled for 2017.

World champion Conlan did not compete in the domestic tournament over the past two years when Walker claimed back-to-back titles.

Walker attempted to land looping right hands on McKenna with the Monaghan man taking a head-first approach as he attempted to withstand the champion's shots in a brave effort.

McKenna clearly looked the slighter man but he gave as good as he got. However, Walker's greater accuracy in the third and final round helped him retain his title on a unanimous decision.

Referencing Conlan's departure, Walker said: "For once in my life I'm No.1 bantamweight in Ireland. I've never been No.1 in my life, so it feels good that I'm the boxer that they have to beat."

Rio Olympian Irvine was aiming for his third title on the bounce - and back-to-back titles at 52kg - as he came up against Cork teenager Thomas McCarthy in the flyweight decider.

While McCarthy defied expectations of a handy win for Irvine by producing a competitive performance, the champion showed his class in the final round en route to a unanimous decision.

Late in the night, Holy Trinity's McComb, a European Games silver medallist, successfully completed his move up in weight as the two-time lightweight (60kg) champion claimed the light-welterweight crown with a unanimous decision win over Wayne Kelly of Westmeath.

With McComb aiming for European and World honours later in the year, the 24-year-old was delighted. He said: "It was the sort of fight I expected, it was easy, in and out. Wayne's a very good boxing brain on him. He knows what it's about, so I'm happy to get the win."

In the opening bout of the night, Kristina O'Hara of St John Bosco defeated Mayo's Shannon Sweeney to claim the women's light-flyweight (48kg) title on a unanimous decision, forcing a count in the final round after landing a stinging right hand.

Derry's Blaine Dobbins got the ball rolling for Ulster when he lifted the light-flyweight title with a split decision victory over Darryl Moran of Illies Golden Gloves.

Derry's Brett McGinty lost on points to Dean Walsh in the welterweight decider.

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