‘No defence warranted’ over Broadhurst selection decision: Irish HP director Heberle

Grainne Walsh claimed 66kg spot on Irish team bound for Paris 2024 in dramatic final day at qualifier

Offaly's Grainne Walsh secured her Olympic place in Bangkok on Sunday. Picture by Joe Walsh
Offaly's Grainne Walsh secured her Olympic place in Bangkok on Sunday. Picture by Joe Walsh

IRISH Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) High Performance director Tricia Heberle insists there is “no defence warranted” of the decision-making process that led to Amy Broadhurst being overlooked for the final World Olympic qualifier in Thailand.

The Dundalk woman – World, European and Commonwealth Games champion in 2022 – switched allegiance to Great Britain after Irish boxing chiefs decided against assessing the 66kg category in the wake of the first World qualifier in March.

However, having dropped down to lightweight – in a move that could have ultimately pitted her against long-term rival Kellie Harrington had she qualified - Broadhurst came up short in her bid to reach Paris 2024, while Grainne Walsh secured the 66kg spot on the Irish team having come so close in Italy eight weeks earlier.

The Offaly woman was one of four Irish boxers to seal Olympic quota places on a super Sunday in Bangkok, with Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist Aidan Walsh, Jennifer Lehane and Daina Moorehouse all coming up trumps.

Selection is often a thorny issue, but Heberle feels the right calls were ultimately made in the right way.

“We don’t hide away from the fact that it has been quite challenging around selection, we’ve had criticism and obviously there have been individual athlete agendas that have been at play,” she said.

“We tried to manage that professionally and to never lose sight of what is important and that is the athletes that are in front of us that are doing the right things and that we believe can deliver under pressure.

“I think the decisions we made around the athletes that could qualify in this sort of team size were absolutely correct and I feel there’s no defence warranted of the decisions or the processes that were taken.

“This is just such a fantastic thing for Irish boxing but also a fantastic achievement for Irish sport. We want to be part of history, we want to create new records and all of these athletes involved in this programme feel that they want to leave a legacy.”

Grainne Walsh celebrates after victory over Amy Broadhurst in January. Picture by Hugh Russell
Grainne Walsh got the better of Amy Broadhurst in the 2023 Irish elite final. Picture by Hugh Russell

The Broadhurst situation, and her switch to Team GB, has been a major talking point in Irish boxing circles during recent months, with much debate flowing onto social media ahead of the qualifier.

Heberle admits there was “an empathy” for the 27-year-old, but insists she couldn’t afford be distracted from the task at hand as Ireland plan for Paris with 10 boxers in search of medals – the largest boxing team the country has ever taken to an Olympic Games.

“I like to post on Twitter myself, but I’m not a great one for social media and the boxing sites. I have a look every now and then, but the key thing for me is not to be distracted.

“My job is to keep that bigger picture view of what we’re trying to achieve, and I just keep bringing myself back to ‘we’re trying to qualify eight athletes and win three medals at the Olympic Games’ - but everyone’s human.

“Yeah there was noise, but in this world we’re allowed to have different opinions on things, and also we probably have different recollections of things that happen. I’m very pleased with how we handled it, because we basically handled it by the jurisdiction I have as the chair of the selection panel.

“We have things we have to do. Elite sport is not fair, and lots of kids have Olympic dreams… Olympic dreams aren’t exclusive to one athlete, and yeah there was an empathy for Amy because she was one of our athletes.

“But you just can’t be distracted. We have to be bigger than that, and I have to keep reiterating that message to keep my staff focused, because they’re all humans and often things are put out which are completely incorrect.

“But what’s the point of going there? Amy Broadhurst is a British athlete, and I’ll keep saying that the only athletes I’m interested in are the people in front of me, and they’re all wearing green.

“That’s what we did yesterday and now the challenge is that we got to the Olympics and we build on qualification, because we’re not going to Paris to participate - we’re going to Paris to be in the medal rounds and on the podium.”