I want to force my way back into Olympic fold says Kristina McCafferty

Kristina McCafferty is taking inspiration from former foe Mary Kom as she plots her boxing comeback. Kom defeated the Belfast woman in the light-fly final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

COMMONWEALTH Games medallist Kristina McCafferty has declared her intention to force her way into the reckoning for a spot at next year’s postponed Olympic Games.

The 24-year-old, who brought home light-fly silver from the Gold Coast Commonwealths in 2018, became a mother for the first time in January.

However, McCafferty was kept out of the ring as a result of a suspension imposed by the Ulster Boxing Council in 2018 and, although that has since been lifted, she intends to pursue legal action against the provincial body.

McCafferty had therefore resigned herself to missing out on Tokyo 2020. However, with the Games now postponed until next year as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the goalposts have shifted.

McCafferty - formerly O’Hara - is targeting the 51kg spot on the Irish team that travels to the final World qualifier in Paris, which had been due to take place this month but are now likely to be another 12 months away.

Ormeau Road’s Carly McNaul was the flyweight pick for the European Olympic qualifier in March, but came up short against England’s Charley-Sian Davison in her bid to claim one of the six qualifying spots.

And McCafferty hopes to get the opportunity to show she merits a shot.

“The Olympics has always been the dream,” said the St John Bosco fighter, who is married to coach Gerard McCafferty.

“My father-in-law, Seanie McCafferty, went to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, also at 51kg, and it was my ambition to follow in his footsteps. Now, nearly four months after giving birth to my wee boy Kiefer, I’m feeling healthy and ready to go again.

“The current situation with the virus is a challenge, but I’m still able to do runs, do circuits… I’m slowly but surely ticking over. In a boxing sense, it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise because the door is still open.

“I feel I deserve the chance to show what I can do, especially with nobody qualified at 51. Whether I get that or not, I don’t know.”

Cavan’s Ceire Smith had originally been selected for the March qualifier in London, only for a hand injury to force her out of the reckoning. With Smith now on the comeback trail, she looks to be in pole position at 51kg.

Given the uncertainty surrounding how the rest of the sporting year will pan out, it remains to be seen whether any championships will take place before the end of the year. Last Friday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signalled close physical contact sports could resume from August 10, opening the door for competitions towards the end of 2020.

The last Irish Elite Championships were held in November, with Smith claiming the flyweight crown after a unanimous decision win over Niamh Earley – illness having forced McNaul out at the 11th hour.

And McCafferty would relish being back on that stage, and especially the opportunity to avenge a defeat to Smith at the start of her senior career.

“Ceire Smith was my first defeat in Ireland - I fought at 51 for a year when I moved to senior but it just wasn’t right for me then. Obviously she’s older than me, has her fair share of experience too, and she just had that edge over me then.

“But at that time I wasn’t taking boxing seriously, I was doing things half-assed – I just wasn’t as dedicated, but that has come with age and experience. You find yourself wanting it more.

“If there is a seniors this year and I was able to go down there and win them, they couldn’t ignore me.”

And, as she steps up her comeback, McCafferty is taking inspiration from former foe Mary Kom.

The 37-year-old from India - who edged out the Belfast woman in the Commonwealth Games final - has had three children since starting out on her stunning career in the ring, but it hasn’t stopped her amassing six World titles along the way.

“The likes of Mary Kom have shown what can be done.

“It’s hard to balance everything but I have a brilliant support system – my parents have offered a hand whenever I need it, Gerard’s mummy and daddy too, our brothers and sisters. They all want to help me try and get back.

“Before all this happened, we had actually started to look towards the next Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, but now there’s something else to go for.”

And, looking further down the line, foundations are already in place for a possible professional career Stateside.

“I’ve been going back and forward to America for 30 years, and there’s a guy I’ve kept in touch with who runs a management company in Las Vegas,” said Bosco coach Gerard McCafferty.

“There haven’t been any negotiations or anything, but we were looking into a sports visa, with the plan to live and train here, then three weeks before a fight travel out to Vegas, with three or four fights guaranteed a year.

“Obviously then we got the word about the baby, but the option is still there for Kristina in the future. When I trained Christina McMahon when she won WBC silver title, she was 40 years of age.

“Kristina’s 24, she has a long time in front of her. The natural progression would be to do what you can in the amateur game and then go pro, but the pro option is definitely still there.”

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