Neil Loughran: Why there are no real winners in Amy Broadhurst saga

Dundalk woman selected for Team GB ahead of final World Olympic qualifier in Bangkok

Neil Loughran

Neil Loughran

Neil has worked as a sports reporter at The Irish News since 2008, with particular expertise in GAA and boxing coverage.

The Irish Athletic Boxing Association has opted to boycott competitions run by the International Boxing Association. Ireland returned from last year's women's Worlds with two gold medals, courtesy of Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O'Rourke. Picture by INPHO
Amy Broadhurst swept the boards in 2022, claiming World, European and Commonwealth Games gold medals - yet now she could find herself representing Team GB at this summer's Paris Olympics. Picture by INPHO

HOW did it come to this? By the end of 2022, Amy Broadhurst was on top of the amateur boxing world.

Yet, from the frustration of a few injury-hit years, and a Kellie Harrington-shaped roadblock preventing her pursuit of Olympic glory in Tokyo, the Dundalk woman had been in danger of slipping off the radar altogether.

Inside six months, though, she showed everyone what they had been missing – and then some. Being brought onboard as a sparring partner ahead of Katie Taylor’s April mega-fight with Amanda Serrano got the ball rolling.

Three weeks after Taylor’s hand was raised at Madison Square Garden, Broadhurst went all the way to gold at the World Championships in Turkey. It was the breakthrough into the big time she had been waiting for.

Commonwealth Games gold was added later in the summer before topping the podium, and claiming the coveted Best Boxer award, at the European Championships in October.

For all this success, however, a nagging question still lurked beneath, as incomprehensible as it may sound - where does she fit in Ireland’s Olympic plans?

Although World and European gold were won at 63kg, Broadhurst still considered herself a 60 kilo fighter. It was there she felt strongest.

That left the Irish High Performance unit in an invidious position – Harrington claimed gold in Tokyo and, having initially hinted that could be her swansong, had decided to come back for another crack.

How could you not pick her? But at the same time, having swept the boards in the 12 months previous, how could Broadhurst not be given a go at her chosen weight?

It is not as straightforward as winner-takes-all. Broadhurst could have challenged the Dubliner at the Irish elites but, even if she had won, Harrington would still have scored higher in terms of international criteria at 60kg, because Broadhurst’s major titles were won at the weight above.

This is where the yawning gaps in the current Olympic weight classification have a lot to answer for, with attempts at levelling up between men and women leaving a halfway house that feels unsatisfactory whatever way you turn.

In a perfect world, Ireland would be going to Paris this summer with realistic hopes of bringing back a slew of medals. Katie Taylor blazed the trail, Harrington took up the torch three years ago but, as a whole, this is the best collection of Irish elite female boxers seen at any point.

Were the weights allocated along the same lines applied at every other major international tournament, Ireland would be sending Michaela Walsh at 57kg, Harrington at 60kg, Broadhurst at 63kg, Grainne Walsh at 66kg, Lisa O’Rourke at 71kg and her older sister Aoife at 75kg. That would be an incredibly strong team.

Instead, Broadhurst, Walsh and Lisa O’Rourke were all forced to battle it out for the 66kg spot, with 60kg the nearest weight below and 75kg the closest above.

It is a fairly shameful scenario for the International Olympic Committee and, unfortunately, played a major part in the situation that has led to Broadhurst being select by Team GB to box at the upcoming World Olympic qualifier in Bangkok, the 27-year-old making the decision after being overlooked by Ireland.

Grainne Walsh goes on the attack during Friday's last 32 win over Stefanie von Borge. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Grainne Walsh will represent Ireland at 66kg in the upcoming World Olympic qualifier in Bangkok. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile (Ben McShane / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

Having been so shockingly denied a quota place at the first World Olympic qualifier in Italy, when some highly questionable judging saw her lose out to Poland’s Agneta Rygielska, it would take a heart of stone to claim Grainne Walsh didn’t merit another opportunity.

But that doesn’t mean Broadhurst doesn’t. Or Lisa O’Rourke who, unlike the other two, wasn’t afforded any opportunity to qualify for Paris. The Roscommon woman – like Broadhurst, a World champion in 2022 - has due cause to feel she has received the harshest treatment of all.

In Broadhurst’s case, another avenue opened up, courtesy of her English-born father Tony. She has been on the receiving end of some bad manners on social media for being open to GB’s offer, as if, somehow, she was now a traitor, or had turned her back on her country.

I can’t buy that at all. After she won gold at the Worlds, an enormous tricolour banner hung down the front of the Broadhurst family home, bearing the words ‘Welcome home Amy!’ Upon driving into Muirhevnamore estate in Dundalk, it was unmissable, and there it stayed for the remainder of the year.

Amy Broadhurst fell in love with boxing watching her brothers at the National Stadium. Katie Taylor was, is and always will be her hero. She is Irish, and has dreamed of representing Ireland at the Olympic Games since she was five years old.

A combination of different factors ensured that couldn’t happen. Now, it is a personal mission, irrespective of what flag she is fighting under.

With Broadhurst almost certain to turn professional later this year, regardless of what happens between now and then, this is her last shot at reaching the pinnacle of amateur boxing. Who would blame her for pursuing that opportunity?

While the recriminations rumble on back at home, she has also found herself in the firing line across the water. The GB squad was officially announced on Monday, with plenty lambasting their decision to bring onboard somebody who wasn’t part of their system.

Fellow lightweights Shona Whitwell - who went to both previous Olympic qualifiers – and Gemma Richardson have voiced their disgust. I get that. This was their dream too, and there is no guarantee Broadhurst will qualify either.

After all, it is 10 months since she last boxed competitively, losing out to new GB team-mate Rosie Eccles at last July’s European Olympic qualifier in Poland. She hasn’t boxed at 60kg since winning Commonwealth gold in Birmingham 2022, and has put a lot of time and energy into building herself into a 66kg boxer in the meantime.

Those are difficult obstacles to overcome in such a narrow time-frame, with the action getting under way in Bangkok in just over three weeks. Should she succeed, attention will immediately turn to the prospect of a potential showdown with Harrington in Paris.

Many would lick their lips at the prospect, no doubt - long-time rivals colliding on the biggest stage of all, Ireland versus England, yada yada. Yet three years ago, Broadhurst attended the pre-Games camp in Tokyo, playing a crucial role in getting Harrington ready for the road to gold.

That’s why, for as huge a story as this has become, it is hard to shake an overwhelming sense of sadness that it has come to this – sadness for Irish boxing, and sadness for Amy Broadhurst.

Sometimes, no matter how many punches are thrown or parried, there simply are no winners.