Talented Murphy sisters taking kickboxing world by storm!
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Both 16 year-old Caitlín and her 10 year-old sister, Annie are, incredibly, three-times WKU World Kickboxing champions, members of the WKU Northern Ireland team and they’ve travelled the globe in pursuit of the top honours.
The trophy cabinet in their Temple Park home has quickly morphed into a bustling ‘trophy room’ and with the 2020 WKU World Championships in Canada in October and the WKU World Cup at the Foyle Arena in Derry next May, the tough-hitting sisters plan to add even more gold to their impressive medal collection.
Yet, while there are unmistakable resemblances between the sisters, their personalities couldn’t be any different.
Thornhill College student, Caitlín talks candidly about battling anxiety and confidence issues in the build-up to fights while her fearsome younger sister Annie, who is a pupil at St Paul’s Primary School, loves the showmanship of it all and dances her way confidently to the ring.
Caitlín’s trophy may paint a different story, but her quick-fire path to success hasn’t been an easy journey. She took up interest in the sport at the age of 13, following in her father, Gareth’s footsteps as she looked to learn self-defence.
Fighting competitively was never her intention but such was her undoubted potential, her coaches at Top Ring, Uel and Matthew Murphy, encouraged her to compete and, once she conquered her nerves, she never looked back.
“The first competition I went to I actually backed out of it at the last minute because of nerves and never fought which was hard at the time,” explained Caitlín.
“I had a lot of anxiety and confidence issues and it took me a long time to fully get over this. The next time I decided to go to a competition I didn’t let it get to me so easily.
“The first fight I lost and I got third in my category but it got me excited to try again. Over the next few months I started travelling to numerous competitions and gained experience and medals and caught the eye of the President of the N.I. team. I was selected to travel for the World Championships in 2017.
“I didn’t have high hopes, this being my first international competition and given I’d only been training for 11 months, but I managed to win a bronze medal. It was then that my fighting journey really started.”
Caitlín’s journey really took flight with her first title shot in April 2018 when she clinched the Celtic title at 54kg in Scotland.
“That was probably the biggest test of my confidence and fitness. I trained non-stop for 10 weeks for a five round fight and it paid off as I brought the belt home.”
Next up was the World Championships where she exceeded all expectations in Greece, winning both the full and light contact finals with impressive TKO victories over Lebananese opposition.
Having also won the Five Nations title at Wolverhampton Racecourse last May, Caitlín went on to win gold and two silver medals over three categories at the 2019 World Championships, this time held in Austria.
Despite her outstanding successes in the sport, Caitlín remains humble and grateful for the opportunities she’s been granted.
“Throughout my journey not everything has been easy. I’ve encountered numerous setbacks such as panic attacks, lacking confidence, a whole host of injuries and the cost of travelling to fights. Thankfully I’ve been very lucky with my sponsors, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Caitlín’s most recent success came at the weekend when she travelled to Scotland to contest the Six Nations title against a top class French opponent in a RMBK international fight show. She brought home the title but once again that success didn’t come without its difficulties.
In the lead up to the fight she sustained ligament damage in her foot and damaged tendons in both her hands. Thanks to the excellent care from her sponsor, Stephen McKendry’s, owner of ‘Your Physio’ based in the Foyle Arena and Greysteel, she was able to fight to the best of her ability and see off her highly rated French opponent.
To be a multiple world champion isn’t bad for a 16 year-old student and her dedication to the sport certainly didn’t deter her when it came to sitting her GCSEs last year as she emerged with seven ‘A’s, two ‘B’s and a ‘C’.
In fact her mum, Michelle believes kickboxing has helped Caitlin become more disciplined when it comes to her studies.
”Last year Caitlín fought for the Five Nations title right in the middle of her GCSEs but she did absolutely amazing in her exams,” explains Michelle. “So we were so proud. The day she did her final GCSE exam she got lifted straight from school and flew off to fight in Germany.
“Caitlín gets anxious before fighting. There’s lots of pressure on her being world champion. We just tell her to do her best so there’s no pressure from us as parents but when you hold all those titles and you’re world champion, you just want to make sure you don’t lose it and you give a good account of yourself. She’s doing her AS-level exams this year but it’s a big year in the ring for her as well.”
For many fathers there must be mixed emotions watching your daughter enter the ring but for Gareth, he’s confident in both his daughters’ abilities and refuses to hold them back competing in a sport they both love and are clearly thriving in.
“Whenever you know they’ve put so much work and effort into training and knowing they’ve prepared properly it gives you confidence in them,” he said.
“It would be different if they weren’t prepared or were taking a stab in the dark but I know they’re prepared and are capable, so why not promote them in a positive manner? Why hold them back?
“They want to take these opportunities when they come along and it would be wrong for me to stop them when they are at that level. They are well recognised and well known for their talent and it gives them so much confidence.”
Annie, who won all three of her world titles on the mats, is hoping to ‘challenge herself’ and make the step up to full contact at the World Cup when it comes to Derry this summer. And by the sounds of things, she certainly won’t be daunted by the prospect.
She’s also won the WKU Irish title, she’s a two-time German Open champion, the World Cup champion and won gold at the NI Championships two weeks’ ago.
“Annie was six when she first started going to kickboxing,” said Michelle. “Her big sister was going so she wanted to see what it was all about.
“While Caitlín doesn’t like the limelight at all, Annie’s a different story. Annie was dancing her way to the ring in her last title fight at the Delacroix. She laps up everything and loves the whole run up to a fight. She wants to be a pro fighter when she grows up. She’s thinking about fighting in UFC or Glory or big shows like that.”
“Annie is totally different,” agrees Gareth. “She promotes kickboxing every chance she gets. At school they do a talent day and she’s in hitting the pads and kicking. On the way back from the airport after fights Caitlín would have her belt hidden in her bag whereas Annie would have hers above her head showing everyone what she won. They’re completely different,” he laughed.
“It’s unbelievable when you think they only started kickboxing just over three years ago. They dived straight in at the deep end and took every opportunity they were presented with.”
If having two feisty, kickboxing siblings in the same household wasn’t challenging enough, a third Murphy sister has also dabbled in the sport. However, the youngest in the family, seven year-old Seairlín, is happier to play the role of a proud sister.
“She would train the very odd time with them,” said Michelle. “And I reckon she would be very good but she just doesn’t have the interest and I wouldn’t force it on her either. It’s up to her. She loves to see Caitlín and Annie do so well and she’s the proud wee sister when Annie brings her belts into school.”
This year promises to be an exciting one for the Murphy sisters with the British Open in England next May, the World Cup event on home soil on the same month and the German Open in June.
However, the WKU World Championships in Quebec on October 29th is the ultimate goal as Caitlín attempts to be crowned a four-time world champion!
All their success doesn’t come without a significant financial cost given the travelling involved and the Murphys are indebted to the girls’ sponsors who have helped them reach the top.
"They love it but it’s a lot of work. They’re in the gym five or six days a week. It’s very demanding on them, especially being so young but they really love it. It is hard.
"Thankfully the sponsors have been quite good. Caitlín signed a contract with an English company, Splashbacks.co.uk which is her main sponsor and they help with the cost of flights. She’s been quite fortunate with her sponsors. So thanks also to Your Physio, Romeos, Bings Body Repairs, Branded Custom Screen Print and Vinyl and Breslin’s Butchers while Annie has two new sponsors on board recently with the Shandon Hotel, Dunfanaghy and Link 47.
“It’s been a great experience for both of them and any financial help or sponsorship is always extremely welcome.”