MEET DUBLIN'S GIRL BOXERS

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We went down to Dublin's Donore Boxing Club with photographer Gerry Balfe Smyth to meet the city's fiercest female fighters.

In Dublin’s south inner city, nestled among the boarded-up council flats of St Teresa’s Gardens, lies Donore Boxing Club. Inside this 50s-era gym a group of young girls are pounding punch bags like they mean it.

There’s 11-year-old Eli, who hobbles in on crutches as a result of a fight two weeks prior (she won the fight); there’s 12-year-old Shannon and 11-year-old Chloe, the latter of whom is with her mam Mary. Shannon’s twin sister Kelsy also regularly boxes at the gym. Eli is one of the club’s youngest fighters and has already been in the ring for five years. She confidently claims to be “the best boxer here”.


ELI & CHLOE. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)
 
Although women’s boxing has come a long way over the years the sport remains male-dominated. And anyone who’s seen Clint Eastwood’s blistering drama Million Dollar Baby will know what these female fighters are up against – sexism, low wages, online vitriol. In Ireland, a country that has a strong foothold in the amateur boxing world and has snagged a handful of Olympic golds and medals at European championships, there’s one woman who’s been breaking the mold. Katie Taylor became a household name overnight with her gold medal-winning performance in the 2012 London Olympics. Since then she’s been inspiring young girls to glove up and enter the ring, dispelling the quaint idea that boxing is for boys.
 
“I WAS VERY PROUD OF HER GETTING THROUGH THAT FIGHT WITH AN INJURED LEG, ESPECIALLY BEING A LITTLE GIRL, BUT SHE BOSSED HER WAY THROUGH IT LIKE SHE DOES EVERYTHING ELSE."
 
I recently visited Donore A.B.C to meet some of today’s young female fighters following in Taylor’s footsteps. First I asked Viv, Eli’s mam, about her daughter’s last fight which left her on crutches. “I was very proud of her getting through that fight with an injured leg, especially being a little girl, but she bossed her way through it like she does everything else. I’m so pround of her.”


VIV BROUGHT ELI TO THE HOSPITAL WITH A SORE LEG AFTER THE FIGHT, TURNS OUT SHE HAD BOXED 3 ROUNDS WITH A FRACTURE..SHE WON THE FIGHT. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)

The spirit in the club, whose walls are adorned with motivational quotes from legends like Muhammad Ali and Cus D’Amato, is playful and light-hearted. No one’s taking it too seriously. There’s a puckish back-and-forth between the boxers which is seemingly integral to the training and overall vibe of the club. It’s something Mary, Chloe’s mam, deems very important for all who attend. “It’s brilliant for them, ideal, and I like that it’s not too serious. I mean the training is, but the trainers aren’t. It gives them something to aim for; I love coming down with them.” 


FIGHT NIGHT. NO MESSING. 'I'M THE BOSS'. - ELLI. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)
 
This wasn’t always the case for Mary, who was initially apprehensive about seeing her daughter in the ring. “At first I was terrified, but after seeing how much she enjoys it and the confidence it gives her, it’s fantastic.” 

Watching Chloe in the ring with her trainer Derek, I can see the confidence her mother is talking about. She is quick on her feet, precise and powerful. Shannon, too, seems like a natural, demonstrating leadership qualities as she guides her fellow fighters in a warm-up. When asked if the girls in the club are better than the boys, she replies, “Of course.”

CHLOE O'BRIEN DONORE ABC GETTING READY TO SPAR. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)
 
Donore Boxing Club isn’t alone in training young female fighters. There’s also Crumlin Boxing Club, run by Irish boxing legend Phil Sutcliffe, who dedicates his wealth of experience to encouraging the next generation of young boxers. “Girls’ boxing is nearly as popular as boys’,” he tells me. “When Katie Taylor won Olympic gold it changed everything. Women’s boxing has only recently been accepted as an Olympic Competition since 2012, and that encourages young girls to box, not just in Ireland but all over the world.”

In Crumlin Boxing Club I met Courtney Daly and her mam, Samantha. Courtney comes from a boxing family with her two older brothers also competing on the international amateur boxing circuit. The girls recently competed in The Esker All Female Box Cup, run by Ed Griffin. The event had over 200 fighters from Ireland and the UK and was a huge success, continuing to grow bigger every year. With dedicated young fighters and trainers, and competitions like Esker, the future of women and girls in the ring looks bright on an island known for its love of the sport. 
 


COURTNEY DOING PADS WITH HER TRAINER PATRICK BRADY CRUMLIN ABC. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH


COURTNEY DALY CRUMLIN ABC. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)


SHANNON & CHLOE SKIPPING OUTSIDE THE CLUB. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)

KELSEY & SHANNON KNOCKING CHLOE OUT. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)

ELI, SHANNON & CHLOE OUTSIDE THE FLATS. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)


THE ESKER ALL-FEMALE BOX CUP. (PHOTO: GERRY BALFE SMYTH)