The A-Team – Zaur Antia reveals secret behind record success

Just like the A-Team from the 80s hit TV show of the same name, Team Ireland Ireland’s success in proving themselves the best team when it comes to female boxing in Europe was all the result of a plan coming together.

A multi-record-breaking Irish team won seven medals at the European Women’s Championships in Montenegro last year, winning Team of the Tournament and proving themselves the best boxing side on the continent by finishing top of the medals table.

Kellie Harrington, Amy Broadhurst and Aoife O’Rourke won gold, Caitlin Fryers and Christina Desmond collected silver, while Shannon Sweeney and Michaela Walsh picked up bronze. On top of this, two Team Ireland boxers’ participation in the tournament ended at the quarter-final stage with Carly McNaul and Kaci Rock, both losing out to the eventual champions.

It was an unprecedented success in a medal-laden year for Irish amateurs but a success IABA Head Coach Zaur Anita was confident would come.

Antia didn’t quite puff on a cigar and declare ‘I love it when a plan comes together,’ but did reveal to Irish-boxing.com that the historic success was planned and was no fluke.

“We had a plan,” he declares. “We took some girls to the World Championships to win medals and some girls to gain experience. They needed experience. When you are in the gym here they always work hard but you need tournament experience. Those fighters competed very well at the Worlds and we could see how they were getting better.”

“So going into the European Championships we said we are not only going for experience, we are going to get medals. We felt there could be new medal winners and new stars if we got the preparation and motivation – and that’s exactly what happened.

“We never had any doubt that they could perform well because everything was done perfectly. The atmosphere was good, the motivation was good and everyone was very positive.”

In a rare interview Antia, a six-time Georgian champion, who initially worked alongside Billy Walsh before taking the mantle as IABA Head Coach, pointed out that the European success was a team effort and has its roots in hard work done in training camps at home and abroad – as well meticulous planning by his coaching team.

“We have a very good gym here in the institute of sport, we have a good atmosphere and we are very innovative. That’s why everyone wants to come here and train. The staff work well together and the plan to produce world-class performances starts here. We train like we plan to compete and when we go to tournaments we review our system and preparation. We see how close we are getting, which fighters have developed, who becomes better, how they listen and then we change things.

“We keep very positive and keep everybody happy because they have to see they are improving,” he adds before revealing those improvements allowed for Ireland to target a big European medal haul.

“That’s what happened with the European Champions, as I said we had a plan for the World Championships, some boxers were going for the experience, some to medal. This time we were not going to be satisfied with experience, this time we targeted more medals. As coaches we saw the opponents, we saw how our boxers were getting better, we knew they improved their qualities, their skills and things they had problems with they changed them. So we were confident that when they used their skills they would do better – and that’s what happened.”

Anita, who was nominated for RTÉ Coach of the Year, also points out that all the medal winners gained more valuable experience at the tournament in Montenegro and as a result go into a massive 2023 even better fighters.

“All these seven fighters are not the same fighter they were today, yesterday. All we need to do is develop this experience.”

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