JOE WARD insists it wouldn't be polite to predict the outcome of his showdown with Kenny Egan in the Elite National Championships light-heavyweight final at the National Stadium tonight – but the 19-year-old is confident of retaining his title.
The 19-year-old European champion meets the 31-year-old 2008 Olympic silver medallist in one of the 13 finals (10 men and three women) to be decided at the home of Irish boxing.
Olympic champion Katie Taylor will also be between the ropes on a night of thrilling action as she takes on Poland's Karolina Graczyk in her first competitive outing since winning gold in London last August. The Bray woman, who routed Graczyk 25-9 in the 2011 EU final in Katowice, will be aiming for the 133rd win of her 140-bout career against the Pole.
Ward, meanwhile, will be a hot favourite to complete a hat-trick of victories over Egan, having beaten him in the 2011 and 2012 elite finals – reversals which scuttled the Dubliner's ambitions of becoming the first Irish boxer to win 11 national titles in the 102-year history of the IABA.
However, the Westmeath teenager steered shy of calling the 2013 edition of the battle of the southpaws.
"I have it in my head, but it wouldn't be nice for me going around telling people who is going to win. I don't think the rest of the boys would take that too well," he said. "The Irish title is the most important thing in amateur boxing. You have to win the Irish title to represent your country. It would really mean a lot to me to win it again."
Egan, meanwhile, is proud to be fighting in his 13 straight elite final – a record run which started on February 23, 2001.
"To still be there after this length of time is just fantastic," he said. "I've done a few things differently this year. For one, I think I can honestly say that I have never trained as hard in my life. My fitness is perfect now."
London Olympians Michael Conlan and Adam Nolan will put their light-flyweight and welterweight belts on the line against Chris Phelan and former champion Willie McLaughlin respectively.
Conlan, a bronze medal winner at the 30th Olympiad, beat Phelan in the 2012 and 2011 deciders and, like Ward, is targeting three on-the-trot over the same opponent.
European champion Ray Moylette takes on defending light-welter champion Ross Hickey, who is also bidding for a third consecutive crown.
Elite National Finals 2013
49kg (7.0): H Myres (Ryston) v TJ Waite (Cairn Lodge)
57kg: M Walsh (Holy Family) v J Lambe (Carrickmacross)
52kg: M Conlan (St John Bosco) v C Phelan (Ryston)
64kg: R Hickey (Grangecon) v R Moylette (St Anne's)
56kg: D Geraghty (Crumlin) v G McKenna (Old School)
60kg: S McComb (Holy Trinity) v G Bates (St Mary's)
75kg: J Quigley (Finn Valley) v R Sheahan (St Michael's, Athy)
91kg: TMcCarthy (Oliver Plunkett) v J Sweeney (Drimnagh)
81kg: J Ward (Moate) v K Egan (Neilstown)
Additional Bout 60kg: K Taylor (Ireland) v K Graczyk (Poland)
69kg: A Nolan (Bray) v W McLaughlin (Illies GG)
54kg: M Lynch (Golden Gloves) v D Duffy(Ryston)
64kg: S Close (Holy Family) v K Harrington (Corinthians)
91+kg: S Turner (Drimnagh) v N Kennedy (Gorey)