'If I didn't have Katie and Kellie, I don't think I would be world champion now'
For most boxers, sitting on top of the world is as good as it could possibly get - at 25, though, Amy Broadhurst feels it is only now that her career is kicking into gear. Talking Commonwealths, Katie Taylor and the Kellie Harrington rivalry that has driven both on, Neil Loughran hears her story…
THERE’S no need to stop and ask for directions once you turn off the main road into Muirhevnamore estate in Dundalk. If the tricolour draped down over the front window doesn’t catch the eye straight away, then the huge ‘Welcome home Amy!’ banner certainly will.
A few months since Amy Broadhurst was crowned queen of the world in Istanbul, following in the dancing footsteps of Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington, it remains as a constant reminder of a remarkable achievement – one that, not so long ago, couldn’t have felt any further away. But more of that later.
For now, there’s haggling to be done outside the front door.
“She wants me to take it down,” says mother Sheila, nodding towards her daughter.
“Ah it’s great, I know… it’s just not so great every time I drive in seeing my own face looking back at me…”
“I’ve told you,” snaps Sheila, “I’m leaving that up until after the Commonwealth Games and if you win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, we’re going to put fairy lights around your face for Christmas. Isn’t that right Amy?”
With a roll of the eyes defeat is conceded, a mischievous smile playing across mum’s lips.
Since first being asked into the Irish high performance unit as a teenager, Broadhurst has travelled the world in green - the next stop on that journey taking her to Birmingham, where triumph in Turkey puts her at the head of the queue for gold.
Yet, for all the air miles accumulated, it is here, the family home in Muirhevnamore, that has always been the centre of her universe; the starting point for what has been achieved thus far, the launching pad for lofty ambitions yet to be fulfilled.
To understand Amy Broadhurst, you have to understand where she came from.
With three older, sports-mad brothers for company, there was little choice but to follow where they led. But it was dad Tony who first brought boxing to the Broadhursts.
Born in England, it is through Tony that Amy qualifies to represent Team NI in Birmingham, while she is now affiliated to the St Bronagh’s club in Rostrevor having learned her craft with Dealgan.
After dipping his toes into martial arts, a love of the noble art developed when Tony’s parents swapped Slough for Dundalk.
As his own family grew, every so often he would take down the oval mirror that still hangs above the fireplace in the living room, place it on the floor and have the kids work on their footwork. Amy, Sheila reckons, was “two or three” the first time she found her feet slipping over the glass.
Paul, Tony jr and Stephen all boxed to a good level too – Paul and Stephen both picking up Irish titles along the way as they fell in and out of the sport, southpaw Stephen beating highly-rated Belfast pro Caoimhin Agyarko en route to the Irish middleweight final once upon a time.
None of the others loved boxing like Amy did. From the second she started, she knew.
“I actually don’t remember life before boxing, or anything other than being out playing sport with the boys,” she says.
“I was never going to go into anything girly, I didn’t have a sister to say ‘right, let’s go dancing’ or whatever. Once I found it, that was me.”
Ability can be developed, so too timing, tactics, technique. But for the competitive edge that drives everything she does, Amy need look no further than the four walls around her.
Is it any wonder the Broadhursts put themselves forward for the RTE show, Ireland’s Fittest Family? And, six years after appearing on the nation’s TV screens, rancour remains, with guilty glances immediately shot across the room as the subject is raised.
Sheila sets the scene.
“They’re fierce competitors, all of them. Even with each other – if they’re going out for a game of pool, it’s ‘we’ll play for this, or we’ll play for that’. Can you not just play for fun?
“As soon as they start that bullcrap, I’m away. Even with our grandson now, Tony’s saying to him ‘in sports day at school, second place is not enough’.
“He’s not even two.”
Amy was 19 when Ireland’s Fittest Family went out, and winces at the memory of their quarter-final exit - though not before ensuring blame is equally apportioned.
“We did very well, all things considered, but it was my fault we went out… and also his fault,” she says, an accusatory finger pointed firmly in her father’s direction.
“I was living in London at the time, doing hardly any training, I came home, ate Coco Pops that morning… I didn’t take it serious. Then I got beat by a 55-year-old woman at running…”
At least that lady has a new claim to fame.
“Because I came second in that race,” Amy continues, “they were put into an eliminator. They started up on hay bales and had to jump down, Paul and Stephen sprinted off it but dad sort of ambled his way down, just jogging. He was beat before he started.
“I’ve come to terms with half of it being my fault, but the other half was his fault and we’re still trying to get him to accept it. I know he’s going to say about his gammy hip now…”
“Of all the places to put me,” says Tony, shaking his head, “as the weeks went on you realised it was all down to luck, in terms of what they got you to do. Put us hanging over the sea, we’re sh*t. But an obstacle course or something that requires strength, great.
“When we arrived, you’re watching the rest and everybody was happy to be there, happy to be on TV. Interview after interview, take after take… we weren’t interested in any of that.
“For us, it was win or nothing.”
The Broadhurst way. But what happens when the road to success is blocked? When you can’t get to where you want to be?
Win or nothing? There is only ever one option.
IT’S coming up on a year since Kellie Harrington had a nation dragging itself out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning. From inner-city Dublin to Olympic gold, a likeability factor that flew off the radar any time a microphone was thrust in her face, tears flowed home and away when the triumph in Tokyo was complete. Hakuna matata.
At 31, there must have been moments when she wondered if this moment would ever come. With Katie Taylor the undisputed queen at 60 kilos for so long, Harrington’s natural path to progress was blocked. At the 2016 Olympic Games, Taylor’s last before turning pro, there were only three weight categories for women – 51kg, 60kg and 75kg.
Moving down wasn’t an option, while the jump up 15 kilos was far too big a gap to warrant serious consideration. So she waited, aware valuable years were slipping by.
Finally, having spent so much of her career in Taylor’s shadow, last summer’s delayed Tokyo Games was Harrington’s time to shine.
Now, in the same weight division, a similar situation has arisen. Amy Broadhurst made strides at domestic and international level all the way up, putting her on an inevitable collision course with Harrington.
The pair have fought only once – four years ago, in the final of the Irish elites. Harrington was a convincing winner. In the time between, though, the gap has narrowed.
Bad blood and a few verbal slaps back and forth through the media fuelled the fire for a time as Broadhurst clung onto the hope of edging Harrington in the race for the lightweight spot on the Olympic team.
But the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by surgery to her wrist, marked the death of that dream.
“Mentally I struggled a lot after that,” she says, “having to finally accept I wasn’t going.”
Yet Broadhurst did end up travelling to Tokyo, invited out - alongside another recently-crowned world champion, Lisa O’Rourke - to help sharpen the skills of those about to go into battle. When it came to choosing their final spars before moving into the athletes’ village, Harrington requested Broadhurst. What the Dubliner got in those sessions was the best possible preparation she could have asked for.
“The difference from four years ago where she was beating me, sidestepping me,” adds Amy, “she has improved me, and she’s obviously finding benefit from sparring me too.”
That’s why rivalries of this kind spark such an interesting dynamic.
Broadhurst, on one hand, is unfortunate to have such a considerable roadblock in her path. On the other, though, she is an infinitely better boxer as a consequence - each, in a strange way, blessed to have the other.
It is no coincidence that, just nine months after Harrington went all the way to Olympic gold, Broadhurst made her own major breakthrough on the world stage.
As far as succession plans go, though, Harrington is nowhere near ready to step aside. And this is where things get complicated.
Last September, weeks after returning home a hero from the Far East, Harrington was a guest on the Late, Late Show. Speculation swirled around that she could be set to follow Taylor into the professional ranks.
Back home in Muirhevnamore, the Broadhursts were enjoying the show.
“You know what, because Kellie said to me, ‘even if I win Olympic gold, that’s me done’, I was kind of at ease then. Like, I can wait a year, and then I’ll be the number one. I was happy with that.
“When she won gold, I was delighted for her. But then a few weeks later we’re sitting here, on this sofa, laughing away at her interview, then bang – ‘I’m staying for Paris 2024’. No-one had told me, no-one gave me the heads up or said ‘listen, just be prepared for this’.
“He’ll tell you,” says Amy, motioning towards her dad, “I was sitting here, he was sitting there. I was just… I actually got up, bust out crying and went for a drive.
“I got pulled over by the Guards at a checkpoint, me crying and everything. That was a very difficult time. Going to Tokyo and before Tokyo, me and Kellie got very friendly, having a laugh with each other.
“But last year I had a sour taste in my mouth. Some of the spars, it’s on video, we’re taking lumps out of each other - I had so much anger towards her then as well, you can actually see [Irish coach] John Conlan walk away from the ring and put his head in his hands, like he was done with the two of us.
“None of us were listening, we were just trying to hurt each other - you’re not learning anything from that. I spoke to a psychologist around then because it just felt like… what’s next for me?”
Disillusioned and angry, she even considered jumping ship. Indeed, had things escalated, Broadhurst could have been fighting under a different flag at the upcoming Commonwealths.
“Obviously my dad’s English, so I went over to a training camp in Sheffield in October and spoke to Matt Holt [GB Boxing chief executive]. I told him I was thinking about coming over and boxing for them, would you have me? Within a day he came back and said they’d be delighted to have me.
“But I knew coming home, my heart wasn’t there. I was like ‘what are you after doing, ye eejit?’ I just do stupid things sometimes… it was always an option for me, but I’m Irish. I always wanted to box for Ireland.
“At that time I just had so much anger towards a lot of people up there. Didn’t trust nobody.”
FROM the darkness of winter, though, light would eventually creep through the cracks.
A positive Covid test ruled Broadhurst out of an international tournament in March. In limbo, and having barely thrown a competitive punch in anger over the past two years, she started to wonder was she cursed. Is this really meant to be?
Then, during that period of isolation, an email dropped from the management team of Katie Taylor.
“When she was nine, people asked what she wanted to be when she grew up,” recalls Sheila, “Amy told them she wanted to be Katie Taylor. She’d ask for Katie Taylor boxing boots off Santa, singlets…
“Katie was her hero.”
The Bray woman was in the middle of preparations for her history-making showdown with Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden, and wanted Broadhurst to come out to Connecticut for sparring.
It was a week that would ultimately change the course of her career, and her life.
“That was the starting point, really.
“Holy sh*t, Katie Taylor’s looking for my help? I haven’t looked back after that.”
And, just as she had helped sharpen Harrington for her assault on the Olympics, so Broadhurst – taller and stronger than Taylor, just like Serrano – played her part in the biggest female fight in boxing history, one in which her hero prevailed.
As she prepared to leave Connecticut, Taylor asked Broadhurst about the upcoming World Championships in Turkey. The Dundalk woman was worried that inactivity could catch up with her, nervous about stepping into the unknown.
Taylor, not one for grand proclamations, looked Broadhurst in the eye.
“No-one is going to beat you.”
How right she was.
Five fights, five wins, mum, dad and brother Paul beaming from the other side of hoardings inside the Basaksehir sports facility as each step was overcome. The $100,000 prize money, a first at the World Championships, has come in handy too - or it will, she hopes.
“I haven’t got it yet, and I’m in the middle of trying to buy a house…”
From fearing what the future held to top of the world in a few short months.
Big decisions lie ahead about what weight class she will pursue as the path to Paris 2024 shortens. Despite strengthening her own hand, Broadhurst is unsure whether to roll the dice and challenge Harrington for the Irish lightweight spot, or move up to 66kg.
“There’s probably a 20 per cent chance I will do 60 kilos now - coming back from the Worlds I wasn’t sure. Part of me was thinking I’ll do it, I’ll take my chance.
“But then you’re thinking ‘have I got a better chance of going at 66?’ And the answer is yes. Once you’re picked, you go and qualify – but was I even going to be picked in Ireland?”
“It’s just a pity the two of them are at the one weight,” sighs Sheila, “chasing the same dream.”
Yet, at 25, she feels as though the road is just beginning to open out before her – the complex relationship with Kellie Harrington, and the tips taken from Taylor, vital parts of the journey.
“Me and Kellie get along now – she texted me after I won at the Worlds, she came to the airport. We’re on good terms... we’re kind of past that stage now.
“The best work I’ve got is with Kellie and Katie. If I didn’t have them two, I don’t think I would be world champion now.
“Going over to America, I didn’t know was I going to take a pasting or what, would I be able to live with her? But I came away feeling I was on that level.
“Going to the Worlds believing you’re on a level with Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington… what’s stopping me? That’s the confidence it gives you and that’s why, even going to the Commonwealths, I’m not even thinking about the Worlds no more – I’m just looking at what’s in front of me.
“Now, after everything, it feels like this is my time.”