KATIE TAYLOR may well be viewed as Ireland’s top female boxing star, but few will be aware of another female pugilist, much closer to home, who will compete for a hat-trick of Ulster Senior titles in Derry next week.
Interestingly, this hugely popular, attractive and effervescent lady is also a qualified nurse and is also an active part-time Corporal in the Irish Army.
Indeed, the name Caroline Connolly is certain to raise an eyebrow or two in next week’s Ulster Elite Championships, the first major sporting event to kick-off Derry’s 2013 Year of Culture Celebrations.
Caroline, a fit 34-years-old single woman who hails from Strabane, is now employed in Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital having qualified for a profession which also remains very close to her heart three years ago.
She’s been boxing now for a decade having taken up the sport much later than her male counterparts, but the move to join the Raphoe Amateur Boxing Club was a Godsend, she maintains.
As part of a large family of 11, she has three sisters and seven brothers, but she firmly believes that boxing has saved her life.
“Looking back to my childhood, I have vivid memories watching my father, Dennis, die of a heart-attack,” she declared this week.
“I suppose people may have thought I was a bit of a tomboy when I was young, but I moved into boxing and found a great release in the sport. It helped me to change my life.
“I used to drink and smoke from an early age but boxing helped me turn my back on those addictions. I really, really enjoyed the training associated with the game. “The discipline and the respect which I earned over the past 10 years I’ve been boxing has been fantastic,” she insisted.
“Boxing also helped me turn to, and realise the importance of, education. I decided to enrol in a Health and Welfare Course at Derry Tech and as I continued to box, the discipline I learned from the sport was channelled towards a career in nursing.”
Caroline was totally focused on her future - both in academic studies and in sport. She developed the perfect marriage between her education and her sporting career and having secured a Degree in Nursing from Magee College, the Strabane woman had achieved her main objective.
“Obviously, I continued to box while I was studying for my Nursing Degree. Both the studying and the training seemed to go hand-in-hand and I didn’t have a problem managing to cope with both,” she smiled.
Obviously, she particularly enjoyed the London Olympics, given that female boxers took part in the Games for the first time but she’s met and has spoken with Irish Gold Medallist and World Amateur Champion, Katie Taylor, on a number of occasions.
“We both took part in a training camp in Coleraine that’s when we first met. I’ve met Katie on a few occasions in the National Stadium in Dublin and there are more girls boxing these days. We box at different weights, so I’ll not be meeting her in the ring,” laughed Caroline. “But she’s a really nice girl and she has done quite a lot to highlight the sport in Ireland.”
But what about the black eyes, the flattened and broken noses which are normally associated with her chosen sport? Do her patients in Altnagelvin ever comment when she’s had to endure sustained punishment when in the ring?
“Not these days,” she answered. “I’ve learned quite a lot over the years and I like to work my way out of trouble. I’m more of a hit and run specialist. I don’t like taking too many ‘hits,’ so I manage okay and no-one really notices.”
Having already won two Ulster Senior titles and lost out in another, she’s anxious to make it three should she qualify in the premliminary contests to be held in Pilot’s Row Community Centre next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with the finals set for The Venue at Ebrington Square at the end of the week.
“I’ve managed to win two titles but I let myself down for a third as I didn’t put in the training but now that the 2013 finals will be in Derry and not in Belfast, I’ve taken my training very seriously and I’d like to win a third title.”
Always active, she joined the Irish Army on a voluntary part-time basis eight years ago in an effort to keep fit, be a part of team-building using the army as a morale booster.
“I’ve been all over the country with the army and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. These days, it’s training once a week and at the weekend if available, but I try not to miss the training.
“I’ve been using ‘live’ ammunition on the driving range, I’ve travelled and trained in helicopters on a number of occasions but, most importantly, the team work and character building in the Army has been really rewarding.
“I think so many of the training methods used really should be deployed in work places and in every day life, it’s really that good.”
Thanks to Raphoe coaches
Caroline extended her public thanks to all those who have helped in her boxing career, particularly the past and present Raphoe ABC coaches - Brendan Ryan, Gary McCullagh, Tommy Stewart, Gerard McGranaghan and Stephen McBride with a special thanks to Peter O’Donnell, who continues to take a great interest in her boxing career.