Boxing: 'We want to do different things with our lives'
Two Kilkenny sisters are committed to following in Katie Taylor's footsteps, writes Marie Crowe
Every morning Hannah Carthy does a lap of the ring road near her home in Kilkenny city. After she finishes her run, she has breakfast, spends the day in school, does her homework and then either her mother or father will drive her to Paulstown for boxing training with Ollie O'Neill.
The teenager makes the trip at least six days a week, sometimes seven. Hannah is training hard for her first senior national championships next weekend, it's all that's on her mind. In fact, she can't wait to get in the ring.
Although only 17 she's been boxing for five years. The sport is in her blood, her father used to box as did her brother Ricky. For Hannah, it all started when she was in sixth class and decided she wanted to get involved in the sport. It took a while to convince her mother but eventually she allowed both her and her younger sister Josie to try it out in Paulstown.
Within a year of taking up the sport, Hannah had won an All-Ireland title and since then has added several more to her collection.
She's represented Ireland twice at European youth level and in the last 12 months has won the junior, intermediate and under 21 All-Irelands at 48Kg. Josie, a year younger, has also won several titles in the 57kg category. Last year she lost out on a place in the Irish team to Amy Broadhurst who went on to win gold in Poland at the European youths in November.
The Carthy household is a busy one. There are nine children in the family, five girls and four boys, ranging from 18 down to 18 months. They live on a site on the outskirts of Kilkenny which they share with 11 other related families, and although they are the only ones who box, the rest of their relatives take a huge interest in how the girls are getting on.
"Some of our relations were interested in boxing but they all got older, got married and they lost interest," explains Hannah.
"It's the travellers' culture to get married at 16 or 17. We are different though, we are all about sport and doing different things with our lives because we know we have a whole life ahead of us and a whole life for marriage," adds Josie.
The girls are adamant that they want to follow their sporting dreams and they'd encourage other young girls to do the same. It helps that their parents are fully behind them. Without their support and transport, they couldn't keep up their training.
Next weekend Hannah will box in the 48kg category at the senior national championships; she's barely gone over 50kg since she started boxing at 12 years of age. For the last week she's been watching what she eats. Before any weigh-in she gets very nervous, so much so that she often won't eat for several days before the date, sometimes even a week. She knows it's not healthy but making the weight is more important to her.
Having support at home helps keep her weight on track. The whole Carthy family has bought into the healthy eating concept. Thanks to her mother there is always an endless supply of salad, the white bread has been replaced by brown and the milk in the fridge is low fat.
Just last week both girls won at the Kilkenny/Carlow championships. The number of competitors is increasing every year, as is the number of girls joining their club in Paulstown. Ollie O'Neill is the coach there and before he opened up Paulstown to girls there was no other club in Co Kilkenny catering for them.
Hannah, Josie and Amanda Coughlan were the first three girls to join and since then many more have come and gone. Katie Taylor and her gold medal have played a big role in the growth of female boxing but the opening up of clubs around the country to females was also a major factor in the sport's development.
"A lot of girls wanted to box but they didn't have the opportunity," explains O'Neill. "For a long time clubs were a bit shy about taking in females because of the lack of facilities. You need separate dressing rooms for girls and bathrooms. We didn't have much for them when they started but I've always found it very hard to say no to any child who wants to box so we made it work."
O'Neill has been training the girls for five years and is impressed with their discipline and dedication. He's spoken to Hannah about the importance of making the correct decisions when it comes to following the traditions of the travelling community and believes she is focused on carving out a career as a boxer.
"Hannah is a quiet girl but she is very strong and single-minded, she has her head screwed on and she is very level-headed and always has been. She is very proud of her identity and culture."
Although Hannah is very young for the senior nationals, O'Neill feels that the experience she gains from competing will stand to her so it's worth giving it a shot.
She'll meet her main rival, 34-year-old Lynn McEnery from Waterford, in next Friday's semi-final. "She beat me before by seven points but I don't think it was seven points. She's my competition and I've been training hard for her," says Hannah.
In a few months she'll sit her Leaving Cert and then she hopes to go to college in Kilkenny next September. Josie will sit hers the following year and also hopes to go to college.
As for boxing, they are aiming to win as many titles as possible and then hopefully qualify for Rio in four years. They know that they have their whole lives ahead of them and are intent on making their dreams come true.