Irish women’s boxing 2016 Preview – and a look behind the scenes at St Brigid’s Edenderry

By Michael O’Neill

In recent years, Irish women’s boxing news has mainly featured the exploits of one Katie Taylor whose 18 Gold medals in Olympic, World, European and major International Championships are unlikely to be bettered by any boxer male or female unless by Katie herself.

On January 1st she entered the record books yet again having been ranked AIBA World no.1 lightweight (60kg) for a remarkable record 10th year in a row. As AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu said:

“The International Boxing Association congratulates and salutes Katie. To remain at the top of our lightweight rankings for a decade is extraordinary. Such remarkable consistency is a testimony to the skill, ambition and determination of a truly world class boxer. She is an inspiration to our young athletes throughout the world.”

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That said, there have been others who have shone too, albeit with a lesser number of medals to show including but not limited to Ceire Smith, Michaela Walsh, Alanna Murphy, Lynne McEnery-O’Shea, Sinead Kavanagh, Dervla Duffy and Kelly Harrington. Indeed all but Sinead and Lynne (now partaking in other martial arts), are still active in the boxing ring and hoping to add to their medal tally at home and abroad.

Irish female boxing is about more than Katie and those other warriors. Other young women of today will soon be on the international medal trail – young women like Christina Desmond, Clare Grace, Amy Broadhurst and Ciara Ginty, all potential future medallists on the Elite international scene and of course recently the name of Shauna O’Keeffe has become well known and not just in Clonmel.

One man very much involved is St. Bridget’s Edenderry Head Coach, Liam Brereton. Liam tells us that he is taking a team of 15 girls to the prestigious Brampton Cup in Ontario, Canada in February and many of those young ladies are already multi-medal winners here at home in Schools, Junior and Youth Events. Indeed some have already represented their country, with pride and with some success. Liam of course is well known and respected in the boxing community having been Manager and Coach of Irish teams in recent years yet will not be familiar to all our readers so to begin with let’s ask Liam what his involvement with Irish boxing has entailed and for how long.

“I was a member of Central Council for the last two years , I decided this year to run for Vice President of IABA, which I was not successful in gaining. (He lost out by a small margin to Mayo’s Joe Hennigan)

‘I am an AIBA 3 Star Coach and currently Head Coach with St Brigid’s BC Edenderry , the club was Established in 1933 and my family were a big boxing mad family, with my Father and uncles all Irish Champions,so too my brothers. Martin boxed in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, when Ali came to Ireland he boxed in our club ring.

Most Irish boxing fans will know of course of Lauren Hogan, the current Irish Senior Elite Champion and also of Shannon Edge. Tell us more Liam:

‘There are 21 lads all very young and 19 Girls, all proud to be members of the Club as we are of having them and the support of their families and friends. We are a local community club .

Lauren Hogan is special, Tokyo 2020 would be a very realistic hope, the harder the fight the deeper she gives, she only picked up boxing after London 2012 and now only 19 and with two Elite titles has the makings of a girl who can make it in the Elite game.

We also have in the club Natasha Logan a youth World Bronze, 9 Irish titles , a Gold Queens Cup medal in Germany and best boxer of the competition. She is unbeaten in Ireland.

Saibhdh Greene holds 9 Irish Title belts, and boxed at European youth level. Another fine prospect.

Shannon Edge has 6 Irish Titles and boxed with success at Youth, World & Europeans, an Elite waiting to happen. Caitlin Sweeney so far holds 4 Irish Titles and she also has boxed at the Europeans. She too is naturally gifted . Junior Lauren Kelly European Bronze , Sarah Edge a 14 Irish Champion is ‘my secret weapon’. Tiffany O Reilly another future champion in my view . We have a very strong Female team in the club. The lads are doing rather well too.

Liam was very much involved in introducing badly needed sponsorship to the IABA via ‘Quick Park’ – how did that come about?

“Dom O’Rourke told me in June 13 that money was needed for a training camp for females before the EU’s that year so I approached John O Sullivan MD Quick Park and a good friend of mine through my other love of Greyhounds. He answered my call with Euros 6.5k . The team was amazing and won 5 Golds,3 silver and 7 Bronze.

We came back and I was told no money was available to go to the World Youth & Junior Championship. I said “these girls have to go” , so I went back again to John and said ‘I need your help again’ , so he agreed to buy the air tickets for the girls to go, to keep cost down we flew to Romania, hired a coach for a seven hours drive through Romania and crossed the border into Bulgaria.

The total cost for the team was around Euros 16k , 6k from John O Sullivan (Quick Park), 3k contributed via a concert organised by Antoinette Faye, a 4K Loan from my Club to IABA plus a significant donation from a lady who did not want to be named and myself.

Antoinette put a lot of work in to the concert, probably done it all on her own but it just was not supported as well as she would have wished but without it we would have been another 3k short for the world’s so it was a very welcome contribution”.

Result? Ciara Ginty Gold Medal and Best Boxer, Christina Desmond Silver and Jacqui Lynch Bronze. A great success and a Big Smile on my face!

I wondered if the IABA and its Boxing Council has done enough to support the women’s sport?

Liam again: “In my experience The Boxing Council have been very supportive in backing Female Boxing, problem is funding the money is just not there. The Sports Council and HP were only interested in 3 Olympic weights, so after a lot of calls, debates and not going away, there was 42k in 2015 HP Budget for Youths & Juniors World’s and European. But I’m fearful this will disappear in 2016 and go back to the 3 Olympic weights.

We have a new IABA Boxing Council for next two years so hopefully they will carry on the good work started by the last Council. Not every boxer who comes in to the gym will be a champion but there are an awful lot of benefits as they will learn respect, keep fit, become apart of a family and out of harm’s way. In recent past we’ve also had a lot of support from many of the Boxing Council inc Dom O’Rourke and Jim Murrin to name but two”.

There have been a few controversies of late, on which let’s not dwell again but can you see any changes in the makeup and/or control of the IABA and its relationship with either Irish Sports Council(Sport Ireland) or Olympic Council of Ireland?

“NO, that’s the simple answer to your question . Boxing is Ireland’s most successful Olympic Sport. You don’t see the Olympic Council looking for someone on the Board and I stand to be corrected, but they never got involved in the Billy Walsh saga. If ‘Sport Ireland’ ever took control of HP boxers then what have the IABA got? I don’t think this can happen, certainly the need to know what’s happening inside the HP unit, but I for one feel that ‘Boxing people should run Boxing’

I will say and wait till the end to mention one name : Gerry Storey – he is the major reason Female boxing in Ireland is where it is. He would be a bigger lost than Billy Walsh if they tried to replace him, this would be a major mistake for female boxing”.

So as Liam looks forward to Ontario (we’ll let you know how the club does in Canada), clearly a man who has a great passion not only for boxing but in trying to improve the standard of – and financing of – the women’s sport.

Ireland does need more funding for the growing number of young females following the ‘ Katie Taylor’ trail and thus the IABA though its Commercial Management must work even harder and ensure that EQUAL FUNDING is made available for all females as for all males and not just the three Olympic weights. More female club coaches too are required. Equally since the IABA is the only AIBA affiliated boxing association in Ireland much more needs to be done to encourage women from the Unionist community. There is undoubtedly great talent available to follow up the great pioneering work of Alanna Murphy but the IABA and Sport NI must do more, much more in that area.

Meantime I’m sure that the Irish boxing community recognises the great work done by pioneers of the women’s sport in the country. Apart from Liam and Antoinette both mentioned here let us not also forget the great work in the past by former IABA Development Manager, Anja Norman and others like Anna Moore, Mary Lawlor, Mercedes Taaffe from Coolaney, Co.Sligo, and of course last but not least coaches like Zaur Antia, Pete Taylor, and the many great club coaches round the country.

With the Olympic qualifiers and then Rio on the horizon, 2016 promises to be another epic year for Irish boxing and here on we will keep you abreast of all that is happening throughout the year.


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