All Irish eyes were on the country’s best medal chance, Bray woman Katie Taylor when she took to the ring in London yesterday but for Dervla Duffy, Taylor’s opponents might be of more interest.
Originally from Monaghan, Dervla moved to Newbridge five years ago because she was involved in the horse racing industry. An all-round sportswoman, she played Gaelic football and rugby as well as horse riding, however boxing was always her true calling.
“From when I was young I thought I’d be really good at boxing,” the 29-year-old explained.
“I never knew why. I always wanted to box. A local club opened in my hometown in Monaghan and I went for a few months and I loved it. But I had to move and then I didn’t box for a few years,” she added.
While playing football with the Kildare ladies some of Dervla’s team mates told her about Ryston Boxing Club.
Four years on, she recently won her third Haringey Box Cup title in London. Each gold medal has moved her up a category, with her latest victory advancing her to the open class, the top level in amateur boxing, while in 2011, she was also awarded boxer of the tournament.
Upon her return home from Haringey, the Sports Council invited the talented flyweight (57kg) to take part in a practice bout in Dublin as part of the Tunisian team’s preparations for the Olympics. She boxed world championship bronze medallist Rim Jouini in a test match and produced an excellent performance.
“The Sports Council heard I’d just won Haringey so they knew I was in training and that I’d be fit so I came and I boxed her. In my opinion and in my coach’s opinion, I beat her. And she has qualified for the Olympics so I was delighted with that.”
Dervla is in attendance at the Olympic boxing tournament to see some of the fighters she may face in the next few years. She believes women’s boxing has a very big future in Ireland and hopes to have a head start on the competition.
“It’s gonna take off after the Olympics – especially if Katie [Taylor] does well; if she gets a medal. It’ll be phenomenal, I’d say. So to be that step ahead before it kicks off would be a big advantage.
“In our club we’ve a lot of younger girls from the age of ten to about 15. In my age group we wouldn’t really get very many girls at all. You would throughout the country but not in my club. In Kildare I’m probably the only girl my age boxing,” explained the Monaghan native.
But if the future seems bright for women’s boxing in Ireland, the present is not. Currently Dervla only has one event per year in Ireland and, to go to tournaments abroad, she has to raise funds herself.
“You’re not representing Ireland, you’re representing your own club. And all the clubs are only small around here; they don’t have the money to give you two or three thousand to go away.
“So I just have to do fundraising and whatever I can to go away. I go to about three tournaments a year. There’s a good one coming up in Sweden in November. I’d like to go but without a sponsor I mightn’t be able to this time. I went last year and won best female boxer. I was really happy. I got a lot of good fights – fights you’d never get in Ireland. But it’s hard to go unless you have the money to support you.”
Dervla hopes she can attract sponsorship so she doesn’t have to raise so much money through car boot sales and ten kilometre runs, as well as support from her parents. Her latest success at Haringey will surely help her chances. She also features in an upcoming documentary, ‘Gloves and Glory’, which follows a number of female Irish boxers.
“A girl rang me one day and said she’d heard about me and as an up-and-coming female boxer would I be interested in making a film. So they came and went through the process of every day life for me for about a week.
“They got a good insight into my life. They weren’t expecting some things like funding. Some things like that they thought was a bit harsh – that it’s hard if you’re trying to work and train and live your own life.”
The apparent lack of funding and support from the Irish Amateur Boxing Association makes Dervla’s progression over the last four years all the more impressive.
“They won’t send us to the world championships because they don’t think we’re good enough. It’s a catch-22; they won’t send you because they think there’s no money to send you and they think you’re not good enough but unless we go there we won’t get money to train. So I just said: feck that, I’m going to look for my own sponsorship and train myself.
“I’m lucky because in my club my coach is one of the Irish head coaches. So while I have him I don’t have to keep going to London which would cost a lot of money. I can just train here in Kildare. But if I got more money or sponsorship, I could go abroad more and get more fights. You progress a lot quicker.”
If she continues to progress the way she has done so far in her boxing career, her ultimate goal is to qualify for the next Olympics.
“I’ll just keep going at it, see how it goes. That’s all I can do.”
- Liam Godinho