Deliberately or otherwise, it’s come in low-key and under the radar as Kellie Harrington prepares to contest her first boxing championships since her gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympics some 14 months ago.
The Dublin fighter, who turns 33 in December, missed the World Championships in Istanbul back in May due to injury, although she did win a tournament in Sofia in February. Fighting-fit again she wouldn’t be at these Women’s European Championships, which get under way on Friday in Budva on the coast of Montenegro, unless she felt she could win.
After a two-week training camp in Turkey, Harrington is among the 10-strong Irish team and the outright lightweight favourite, looking to add a first European gold to her Olympic title from last year, and World crown from 2018. She previously won European bronze, also in 2018, and is out on day one against France’s Maiva Hamadouche.
She’s far from the only Irish contender for medals come finals day on Saturday week. Amy Broadhurst can win a unique hat-trick of gold medals, the Dundalk fighter already having won the light-welterweight title at those World Championships in Istanbul, before adding the Commonwealth Games lightweight title in Birmingham in July.
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She returns to light-welterweight here, a non-Olympic category, the 25-year-old again well fancied to win gold having won bronze three years ago. Lisa O’Rourke, the other half of that Irish gold medal winning duo from Istanbul, is ruled out this time with a hand injury.
However, older sister Aoife is back to defend her middleweight crown secured at the last edition of these championships in Alcobendas in Spain in 2019, the only reigning European champion among the Irish squad.
Still there are other well-decorated boxers, Michaela Walsh from Belfast (who got a first-round bye) looking to add to her Commonwealth Games featherweight gold, winning European bronze in 2018. Christina Desmond is back contesting at middleweight division having won bronze in 2016, while flyweight Carly McNaul won another Commonwealth silver in July.
Though the International Boxing Association (IBA) last week controversially lifted the ban on Russia and Belarus, it came too late for Budva, the entries already closed, with further enhances the Irish medal chances, the prospect of three or more gold medals in store.
Along with Harrington, European under-22 featherweight champion Niamh Fay is also in action on day one, taking on Italy’s Sirine Charaabi.
For Broadhurst, the World Championship title may have made her a target, though otherwise she feels unchanged, calling 2022 “the best year of my life” in an interview on the IBA website,
“It was a great achievement to win a Commonwealth gold medal,” she says, “but since I was a little girl, I always dreamt of a World Championships gold medal. To finally achieve one of my dreams is an amazing feeling and something that I always wanted.
“I think it will be both emotions for my opponents, fear and excitement. I think they will know that am a World champion, which might make them scared, but they will want to beat me, and to beat a World champion is very exciting for them. I have a target on my back now.
“Other than that, everything is the same. I don’t feel like a World champion, and to me, that’s a good thing. Because I wouldn’t want the title going to my head.”
Broadhurst, however, must choose between 60kg, which is Harrington’s weight division, or move up to 66kg to fulfil a lifetime dream of competing in the Olympics in 2024. Broadhurst takes on Sema Caliskan from Turkey in Sunday’s evening session.
In all 164 boxers from 31 nations are registered to participate.
Paris Olympic qualification may also not officially start until next June, though plenty of early claims will be laid down in the next week.
Team Ireland Squad: European Championships, Budva, Montenegro
48kg: Shannon Sweeney, St Anne’s, Mayo
50kg: Caitlin Fryers, Immaculata BC, Belfast
52kg: Carly McNaul, Ormeau Road BC, Belfast
54kg: Niamh Fay, Phoenix of Ballyboughal BC, Dublin
57kg: Michaela Walsh, Emerald BC, Belfast
60kg: Kellie Harrington, St Mary’s BC, Dublin
63kg: Amy Broadhurst, St Bronagh’s ABC, Newry
66kg: Kaci Rock, Enniskerry BC, Wicklow
70kg: Christina Desmond, Dungarvan BC/Garda BC
75kg: Aoife O’Rourke, Olympic BC, Galway