In sport it often happens that the offspring of gifted athletes go on and do sometimes even better than the previous generation as it appears with Gort’s Cliona Darcy – Irelands First World Youth Heavy Weight Title Holder.
Her Dad, Poolboy’s Ritchie Darcy, was a gifted all round athlete in his youth - Community Games, hurling, football, rugby but especially in boxing – he made his mark.
Growing up with parents Betty and Paddy ; he remembers the new boxing club arriving to town after the Polish Pontiff’s visit and the long evenings in the top floor of the Emerald. "I was only 9 when I started and we had some wonderfully committed coaches – the late Tom Watters, Buddy Donnellan and of course Frankie Walsh”, he recalls.
They might have been influential but they had material to work with – the 57kg youngster won 3 consecutive Connacht and National Titles in the mid 80s .
Ritchie left Garbally after his formal education, went to the UK for a few years and came back some 30 years later to purchase and operate a bar – Dicey Reillys in the neighbouring town of Gort in 1993.
He brought his wife Dawn with him and they reared a family of three – Cian 29, Darragh 25 and of course Cliona 17.
He himself threw himself into the business and rearing his kids but in 2004 James Fahey of Peterswell and few others in the South Galway hinterland came together and founded the Tobair Pheadair Boxing Club.
He became a volunteer, mentor and then coach and got his two eldest lads interested in the sport . Within a few short seasons – he was ferrying them along with other members to different tournaments and sparing events with a newfound toddler baby sister in tow.
“I grew up in the back of the car or around a boxing ring or gyms – following Dad, Cian and Darragh all around the West and Mid-West”, laughs the current World Youth Heavy Weight Champion Cliona.
The two lads were nearing the end of national school or starting secondary and before they knew it Darragh had won County and Connacht Titles and an Irish Championship.
While Ritchie might have taken a break from the sport for over 20 years – some of the tricks he was taught in the Emerald in the 80's came in handy as Cliona had no formal training, sparring or coaching for most of the two years of Covid-19. During the lockdowns it was just her and her Dad – coach, mentor and sparing partner.
Early days were Pure Mule she recalls – “ there was just me and Sophie Burke – two girls out of 50 lads , 3 club night training sessions a week – all the running, sprints and sparing – with the boys and of course our coach Ronan Kelly.”
To put her achievements in context there are just four boxing clubs in Galway county – and there are very few female boxers, Cliona regularly has to go to Castlebar for sparring sessions. She also was invited to the Irish International Boxing Camp in Edenderry under the tutorship of Liam Brierton.
She has like her Dad, dabbled in other sports in the Gort Community School where she is a popular leaving cert student, including team sports Camogie – where she excelled as a full back and especially Basketball – which she really enjoys as a forward.
“I’d encourage every young girl to try every sport once, - the individual and the team – if you're interested in a particular one just go with your gut “, she urges.
For Cliona – she is fairly cool about her pre-tournament build up “lots of running, gym and a very strict diet regime are what give me the focus on the way into a bout.” she notes.
She is coy about what puts her in the zone prior to getting into the ring but she does admit that she listens to a lot of Dubliner Luke Kelly’s upbeat music before the fights.
Even with 7 National Youth titles under her belt and the historic first Irish World at her grade she is committed to defence of her title as she is still under age next year and she is not neglecting he books , with her eye firmly on an educational career post leaving cert.
Cliona definitely has a long career and bright future ahead of her, but she says she’s taking it step-by-step. “For now, I want to stay amateur. I’m taking one step at a time. The Olympics would be a big goal but baby steps first.” she cautions.
While the Irish Athletics Boxing Association have been very good to Cliona – in sponsoring all her travel and attendance to Training and High-Performance Camps as well as the International Tournaments she still have to have a few loyal sponsors in her corner.
Luckily for her Whyte Security, Casey’s Sports Bar Birmingham and Murray and Co. Birmingham have been very supportive of her journey so far.
Final word to Ritchie however “Will ya let readers know we are looking for a new premises here in Gort for the Club!“
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