Kellie Harrington: ‘There’s no bad blood or bad feelings towards Amy’

‘If I was to think of just one person, that would be absolutely crazy. There are so many really, really good girls out there’

When Kellie Harrington walks into the room and straight away starts rolling with the questions as she would any punches it’s clear nothing is about to ruffle her unnecessarily so.

Her response to a first defeat in three years, her plan to defend her Olympic lightweight boxing title in Paris, any feelings already on her international retirement afterwards, come what may. Nothing is off the record.

Then the question turns to the elephant in the room: her reaction to Amy Broadhurst switching allegiance to Britain in the hope of qualifying for Paris.

There is a momentary pause before Harrington breaks into a laugh.

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“I was wondering what elephant you were talking about there,” she says, and then continues as if she saw it coming, as instinctively as she would any punch.

It’s just over two weeks now since Broadhurst was selected to fight for Britain in the final Olympic World qualifier in Bangkok later this month, after the 27-year-old from Dundalk was overlooked by the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) for the last two qualifying tournaments – putting her on a potential clash with Harrington as she looks to defend that lightweight title in Paris.

“To be honest I didn’t really have a reaction,” Harrington says. “People saying ‘ah, you might face each other’ and so on. Look, I don’t how many women boxers are in my weight, I’m going to say 22, because that’s an average number that’s always in the weight categories.

“But if I was to think of just one person, that would be absolutely crazy. There are so many really, really good girls out there. Like, the draw has to be done. She has to qualify, which I think she will do, and you never overlook anybody.

“But the way I look at it is, I train now for different type of styles, then the draw gets done, and you go from there, one day at a time, then minute by minute in the ring.”

Broadhurst won World, European and Commonwealth titles in 2022, the latter for Northern Ireland, and is eligible to fight for Britain via her father Tony, who is English. For Harrington, who turns 35 in December and has already declared Paris will be her last international tournament, there are some complications, however, in that Broadhurst’s coach and partner Eoin Pluck is part of the IABA high-performance coaching team.

Prior to her decision to switch allegiance, Broadhurst said “her lifelong dream has been to become an Olympian. I have spilt blood, sweat and tears over 22 years in the boxing ring in pursuit of that childhood goal”.

Harrington says she hadn’t spoken to Broadhurst on the issue beforehand, but that she wasn’t surprised, nor is there any “bad blood” between her former sparring partner.

“Ah, yeah, I’d be good friends with Amy, like. There’s no bad blood or bad feelings towards Amy. She was a team-mate. We don’t really have bad blood in Team Ireland ... And beyond.

Smiling, she adds: “I suppose he [Pluck] won’t be involved with me. Which is a shame because he’s a great coach. But, I mean, you can’t have that, like. He just won’t be coaching me.”

When Harrington lost her 60kg lightweight semi-final at the European Elite Championships in Belgrade at the end of April (in a split decision to Natalia Shadrina from Serbia), it was her first defeat in over three years, and after 32 successive wins.

Her previous defeat before that was at the Strandja Memorial tournament in Sofia, back in February 2021 to Nune Asatryan from Russia. Harrington recovered perfectly well from that in ample time for the delayed Tokyo Games five months later.

The Serbian fighter had lost her last two bouts to Harrington, including at last summer’s European Games in Poland, where the Dublin fighter qualified for Paris.

Speaking in Dublin in her role as a Spar ambassador for the Stay in the Game campaign, which encourages young females to develop a lifetime engagement with sport, Harrington admits she is now fast switching into full Olympic preparation mode.

“I just know it’s 11 weeks away. So the switch-on started last week, trying to switch on now, and trying to prepare for the big show basically.

“It’s a long tunnel, and it’s been a wide tunnel, because I qualified last year, in the European Games. And it’s been a long wait now, obviously. The focus hasn’t been there, but now it’s starting to shift, as of last week. And as it gets closer the tunnel starts to narrow, and get shorter.

“It’s going to be so different [to Tokyo], obviously with a lot more people there, there’s going to be a lot more noise, outside noise, that will factor into your life, and what you’re doing out there.

“What we’ll have to really do is try stay in control of what your doing out there, and your emotions, and your activity, that you’re not going off and meeting people, and wasting energy. You need to be conserving all that for training and for competition, and not like, getting caught up with anything that’s going on at home, or outside the village, or in the village.

“Because I imagine it will be like an Irish invasion over there.”

Especially if Harrington does get to fight against Broadhurst.

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