European success shows Olympic potential with Paris on horizon

The Irish team and coaches celebrate topping the medal table, and being named best team at the European Boxing Championships in Budva. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

Amateur boxing: European Elite Championships

TEN years after Katie Taylor blazed a trail at the London Olympics, a golden generation of Irishwomen is lighting up the international scene in spectacular style – with a record haul at the European Championships the latest landmark in a year to remember.

Away from all the boardroom bitterness and in-fighting that has so often brought the wrong kind of attention to the country’s most successful Olympic sport, results between the ropes have seldom given more cause for optimism.

Olympic gold medallist Kellie Harrington, Tokyo 2020 team-mate Aoife O’Rourke and the irrepressible Amy Broadhurst all topped the podium in Budva on Saturday, with Belfast’s Caitlin Fryers and Cork Garda Christina Desmond picking up silver.

Alongside bronze for Shannon Sweeney and Michaela Walsh, it was already Ireland’s most successful championships even before a punch was thrown in anger on finals day – with Saturday’s gold rush the icing on the cake.

Having finished second in the medals table at May’s World Championships in Turkey, Ireland were top of the pile this time around. They left Montenegro yesterday with the best team award, while Broadhurst was named boxer of the tournament.

With the qualification process for the 2024 Olympic Games due to get under way with the Irish Elite Championships in January, an exciting few years lie ahead - with considerable medal potential among those in the chase for Paris.

Harrington will be 34 then but, if the evidence of the past fortnight is anything to go by, she could still be the one to beat should she reach a second Olympics.

The classy Dubliner claimed gold after a unanimous decision win over Czech Lenka Bernardova in Saturday’s lightweight final, capping off a journey that began with victory over former professional world champion Maiva Hamadouche.

It completes a clean sweep of boxing’s biggest honours for Harrington too, European gold sitting nicely alongside her World (2018) and Olympic achievements.

Broadhurst has been conquering all before her too, with Saturday’s success against Ukraine's Mariia Bova adding to World and Commonwealth gold medals already secured in the past five months.

That hat-trick all came at 63kg but, with that weight class not among those included in the Olympics, the 25-year-old faces a tough decision before her name goes in the hat for the Irish elites as coaching staff plot the road to Paris.

Does the Dundalk southpaw go down to 60kg - which she is more than capable of doing - and challenge Harrington for the number one spot? Or build up to 66 kilos and try and qualify that way?

Aoife O’Rourke made it a year to savour at home, following on from younger sister Lisa’s World gold by overcoming a slow start to defeat Poland’s Elzbieta Wojcik in the European middleweight decider.

For Fryers, meanwhile, Budva proved her breakout tournament as an elite international-class operator. The Covid-19 pandemic may have slowed the Immaculata light-fly’s progress to this stage, but she grabbed this opportunity with both hands.

The 22-year-old will have learned from the experience of a pre-competition sparring camp that pitted her against the likes of Saturday’s opponent Naz Buse Cakiroglu. The talented Turk, an Olympic silver medallist in Tokyo, proved too slick on this occasion, but Fryers has time on her side to close that gap.