It's the Hard-knock life for Derry's rising fight star, Annie Murphy!
TRAVELLING the world and trading blows in the ring isn't exactly the script for an uplifting musical but for streetwise 12 year-old Derry kickboxer, Annie Murphy, it's been her theatre of dreams.
A seven-times world champion across two different federations (WKU and WKO) it's been a phenomenal journey for the Templepark youngster who will start 2023 with a Five Nations title shot against an English opponent at the Everglades on March 25th.
She's no red-haired freckled-faced orphan but brave Annie's star is shining brightly on the world stage. Unassuming in nature and small in stature, Annie is a ferocious operator in the ring with her powerful sidekicks her weapon of choice.
It's been a school of hard knocks but her impressive collection of trophies and medals she's won across all parts of the globe are something to marvel at for such a young fighter who was first introduced to the sport as a curious five year-old.
The middle of three sisters, Annie takes her kickboxing talent from her eldest sibling, Caitlin, herself a three-times WKU world champion.
Annie first won a world title (WKU) in Athens in 2018 before amassing two more in Austria the following year and 2022 has also proved productive as he clinched two WKO world titles in Barnsley last August before taking another two WKU world titles in Wales last October.
That's not to mention her four WKU German championship titles, first won in June 2019 and captured once again in June 2022. She won the ISKA British title in Birmingham in March this year and came out on top of 400 fighters to claim the 'Fighter of the Tournament' accolade. Annie is also the current WKU Irish title holder and a 10 times WKU Northern Ireland champion.
Her spoils of war fill almost an entire room at her family home but her ultimate ambition to turn professional and feature in Glory - the world's premier kickboxing league – and there's nothing to suggest she won't reach such heady heights.
Trained by her father, Gareth and Uel Murphy at Top Ring Kickboxing Gym on the Strand Road, Annie's success hasn't gone to her head either. In fact she's been reluctant to parade her trophies when asked to present them to her peers at St Brigid's College and would rather do her talking in the ring and the gym where she also coaches young kickboxers who look up to her as a role model.
So what appeals to her so much about a sport which clearly isn't for the faint-hearted?
"I love the training and constant challenges," she said. "I get to travel and see a lot of different countries, I love that part about it too. I'm very lucky for the opportunities I've had at such a young age.
"I love it," claimed Annie, a keen Gaelic footballer who was first exposed to martial arts when accompanying her father to the local Muay Thai club. "Caitlin and my daddy got me into it.
"Athens was my favourite trip because they had a rooftop pool where we were staying so every day I got up to go to competitions and then came back and jumped into the pool. That's where I won my first world title," she smiled.
"I want to go pro when I'm older. I want to fight in ‘Glory’, that's the goal," she added with a steely determination.
Success hasn't come without hard work and lots of 'blood, sweat and tears' along the way. So what's it like for her father and mother who have been in Annie's corner from the beginning?
"She's been training really hard," explained Gareth. "Even during Covid she never missed a beat and it paid off for her.
"After Covid she probably had a bit of anxiety when going into fights and bearing in mind she went up in weight categories. Before the pandemic she was -25kg, when she came back she was into the -40kg and -45kg categories which made the biggest difference because she was fighting bigger opponents."
"She was really nervous at the start, that first fight or two but as the fights went on she had multiple fights per day, and you could see her confidence growing," continued her mother Michelle.
Kickboxing has strengthened that father/daughter bond and Gareth is immensely proud of Annie.
"It's a common interest which definitely helps," added Gareth. "We help run this gym which is a non profitable gym. Nobody takes anything, it all goes back into the fighters. We're doing this out of our own free will so you have to love it. If you didn't you wouldn't be here. So you're more proud when you see her winning things but even if she wasn't I would still be here."
It's a huge commitment for someone so young but Annie loves to train and her appetite for competition is as big as ever.
"I'm proud to see how far she's come but the work she's put in to get there has stood to her," adds Gareth. "During the summer we would be leaving our caravan in Malin Head to come into Derry to train. She tells me she wants to train. Even if it's a sunny day and she's in the water with her friends she comes out to go training.
"She'll be skipping or we would go out running, she never misses a day training for anything. Her birthday falls a month before we go away to the world championships and she never wants to do anything to celebrate because she's getting herself ready to fight. That's a big commitment for a child!"
Has he been surprised by the enormity of her achievements?
"I think sometimes you're blinded by it. You're always looking at the next fight and don't really have time to reflect. When you see all the medals and trophies, it takes you back.
"It's been a long run and there's been some hard fights, a lot of blood, sweat and tears."
"It doesn't end either when we come out of the gym either because at home it's all about nutrition and making sure she's sleeping right, getting her school work in and everything else," added Michelle. “You're trying to find that balance.”
"She's a great role model," added Gareth. "All those younger children look up to her. Some of the parents would come in and say their wain just wants to be like Annie and wants to do what Annie's doing and that's a good reflection on her character. She can take what she's learned in the gym and show other people it at such a young age, it's remarkable."
It certainly is remarkable but you can never stand still in kickboxing and the 2023 World championships in Canada next October will be firmly locked in Annie's sights as she targets an incredible EIGHTH world crown, all before her 14th birthday!
Pursuing her sporting dream has proven expensive and Annie and her family would like to thank the following businesses for their generosity: The Shandon Hotel, Romeo's; Beaver Log Cabins, Discount Tyre Centre, Breslin's Butchers, The Cosh Bar & Grill.