Experience versus youth. One fighter entering the ring of an Elite final for the first time, the other looking for title number eight. Broadhurst V Harrington had all the ingredients for a Box Office clash – Dublin’s National Stadium the theatre.
Two lead characters demanding victory, their backstories adding emotion to the affair. One is a new girl on the block boasting a blinding underage career amassing 15 national titles. The other, a seasoned athlete demanding her time at the top. A unanimous decision at the final bell provided the climax this battle deserved.
28-year-old Dubliner Kellie Harrington is Pundit Arena’s Sportswoman of the month for February.
Heading into last Saturday’s fight with the Dundalk boxer, Harrington’s focus never broke the boundaries of her own game: “I mean you train for a fight, you train to win. You train to last three-minute rounds and not get tired. As long as you can do all of that, then your boxing, your performance will give you all the answers.”
Harrington was disappointed with the quantity of competitors that weighed in, resulting in Broadhurst and Harrington facing each other in a straight-final with a result Kellie felt she deserved.
“There is nothing that gives me the right to win over her, it was just that I won on the day. I’m sure she trains just as hard as me. We all train hard. She is quite fit herself but I think my sharpness just gave me the edge.”
Following a gap of five years, RTE Sport welcomed back the National Elite Boxing Championship finals to their schedule of live coverage with Harrington’s Lightweight title victory her first time fighting on live television. While she is thankful for the increased exposure, it did not interrupt her approach.
“To box on the telly was amazing but it had no effect on me at all, I didn’t even feel the presence around to be honest with you. I just kind of stick to myself and do what I do.”
“I can be quite ignorant when I’m fighting as well,” says Harrington, admitting her determination can give her tunnel vision to ensure she performs well. “People will come up to me and ask me things. It’s not about publicity or anything. I just want to box and I just want to win. Anything else then is a bonus.”
The past two seasons have seen Harrington’s transition from Light Welterweight (64kg) to Lightweight (60kg), a decision heavily influenced by Kellie’s desire to fight at the Olympics. The boxing card at Rio 2016 only included three female weight divisions – Flyweight (51kg), Lightweight (60kg) and Middleweight (75kg) – a move criticized by Harrington in the past as her weight class didn’t make the cut rendering her qualification hopes impossible.
With no guarantee of Welterweight making it on to the agenda of Tokyo 2020, Harrington was left with a decision to make.
“I could have went up or come down, but going up is nearly as hard as coming down – you have to put on the weight and stuff. So I just decided to come down so I can hit the 60 kg Olympic weight. I said I’d give it a go and put everything into that, hopefully, get to the qualifiers and qualify for Tokyo. Please God.”
Harrington isn’t keen on comparisons with Olympic gold medallist and World Champion Katie Taylor who rose to International success in the Lightweight division before turning professional.
“I lived in the shadow of her for long enough without getting the opportunities. But I just focus on me and what I have ahead. I don’t compare myself to anybody else. The only person that I compare myself with is the Kellie Harrington from yesterday.”
While she always had the desire to take up boxing, it wasn’t until her later teenage years that she found herself in the ring with a ferocious desire to succeed and a supportive network of family and friends around her.
“I just train hard. I do the same as everybody else does – unless my Ma and Da have good genes or something. I’m the first to take it up in my family although my Ma loves a good fight! They wouldn’t come abroad when I’m fighting but if it’s anywhere in Ireland they come all the time. Especially my Da, he will always be there.”
Under the guidance of coach Noel Bourke, Harrington capitalises on the community atmosphere created in her home club of St Mary’s Tallaght.
“Sometimes you can be in a club where others lose out in the same competition as you and begrudge you because of that – because you’re doing well. It’s not like that in St Mary’s, it’s very different. We all push each other and we all genuinely want the best for each other.”
She is grateful for the extensive work put in by her coaches Noel Bourke, Adam Comerford and Mel Leonard – while she is also very appreciative of the support from the staff of the Institute of Sport with regards to services such as S&C coaching and physiotherapy.
With her intensive training schedule seeing her doing two sessions per day Monday through Friday, it is surprising to hear Kellie tries her best to maintain a part-time job.
“Yeah I’m still working – I was in work the next day after the final. It’s what I like to do. It satisfies me. I only work every second weekend and a lot of the time I can’t get to do the second weekend because I could be away.”
Her role is part of the household staff at St Vincent’s Hospital, but her job satisfaction goes beyond her tasks and responsibilities, citing it as a time away from the bubble of boxing to recharge.
“I like to go into the patients on my ward – it’s nice to go and see people. They don’t know too much about what’s going on (with boxing) so you’re just treated normally – I like that. That’s my downtime – going into work and feeling normal.”
An increase in financial income to complement her Irish Sports Council Grant isn’t a factor that would make her reconsider working her part-time position.
“People say why don’t you just quit like, leave the job and focus. Well number one, because it’s what makes me feel normal and that’s what I enjoy doing. Number two – because I’m not loaded, I’m not rich. I’m on 20 grand a year from the Sports Council. You can’t afford to not work either, but I wouldn’t quit my job anyway – I enjoy doing it.”
She isn’t convinced that she would see significant improvement in her performance levels with increased funding or provision of services either.
“Money doesn’t buy you levels (of performance). Only training and hard work does that. I’m happy enough – I don’t live this massive fancy lifestyle or anything. I have food on the table and I’m able to pay my bills. I’m able to drive my car to training. I don’t need all these fancy things that a lot of sports people have. As long as I have my everyday needs then I’m happy enough.”
Her 8th National title under her belt heading into March, she jets off to America on Thursday for a triad of fights before attention turns to Poland in May for the Europeans. However, a gold medal isn’t top of her wish list as such.
“I just want to perform well. I don’t look at medals, I just look at performance and performing well. If I can perform well then I’m happy, because performance brings medals. I don’t go out there with ‘medal, medal, medal’ on my brain because it will be quite hard to see what’s ahead of me. I take it one round at a time rather than one fight at a time – I take it round by round.”
Owing to her choice to drop down from Welterweight to the Lightweight division, Tokyo 2020 is an obvious goal for the Dubliner with qualification for the next Summer Games beginning next year.
“Tokyo 2020 is the long-term goal. It’s getting shorter and closer, but it is the long-term goal.”
Looking beyond 2020, Kellie is excited about the promising talent that will make up the Olympic teams of future Games as the product of improved underage club structures.
“I’m looking at the 11 or 12-year-olds upwards – my God, the talent and the dedication of them, it’s just something to be admired. The opportunities that they’re getting now, I hadn’t those opportunities when I was their age. I wouldn’t have been boxing when I was their age either, but even when I was 16 I wouldn’t have had those opportunities. If I had, maybe boxing might have been different for me for now, things could have blossomed earlier”.
A World Elite silver medalist, 8 National Elite titles and realistic Olympic hopes, Kellie Harrington is stepping out of the shadows and forging her own path.
“It’s truly an honour for people to finally start seeing me now.”