Educated in a classroom in Carrick-on-Suir, but tutored in a boxing ring in Callan, you immediately realise that international boxer Clare Grace grew up in the most hostile of hurling environments: the Kilkenny-Tipperary border. Upon hearing that her mother works in the Tipperary Town Council, I suggest that the Grace household would have been a fractious one during the Kilkenny v Tipperary duology in the All-Ireland final last month, but her rebuttal is clear:
“No way, no way.”
Clare Grace is a Kilkenny native; blue and gold won’t be tolerated. At least I’m dealing with the victorious party.
The 20 year-old DCU student is from the west of the Marble County – Tullahought to be precise – and has been immersed in sport all her life. Handball, badminton, gaelic football and a decade of camogie with Windgap GAA represented a very active youth, but it was boxing that claimed her heart despite it not being the ‘done thing’ during her time in school.
“To be honest, there wasn’t really a culture of female boxing. When I was about 12 or 13, my father always had an interest in just being able to defend yourself or being strong so he just brought myself and my brother and sister up to the local boxing club in Callan. I think there was only one other girl there at the time but I just took to it so I just kept it up.
“That was the time where Katie Taylor was kinda becoming more famous for what she had achieved although I hadn’t actually heard of her when I started but no, there wasn’t really a culture (of female boxing) at all when I first started.”
It’s been something of a whirlwind few months for the Sports Science and Health third year student who hopped on a plane to Bucharest days after her summer exams to win bronze at the European Championships. It was her first time competing at such a level, let alone winning silverware of that magnitude. Having passed her exams and performed at an elite sporting level in the space of days, it’s certainly one hell of a balancing act, but it’s all about the organisation, she says.
“It’s challenging at times but that’s usually just time-wise, I’d suppose. You just have to be organised and I’m quite lucky in Sports Science and Health, all the lecturers are very helpful and flexible if I ever have to go away for training camps or anything but, like any student, like everyone’s juggling something I’d suppose so it’s just really time management is the main thing, not being lazy and just trying to be organised with everything.”
As a 20 year-old competing with the best in the business, the future is undeniably bright for the fighter who is competing in a sport that is growing in popularity. However, has that rapid growth in female boxing stagnated since Katie Taylor’s 2012 glory in London?
“Yes I think it probably has like, say, in Ireland it’s growing as a sport so you can’t say that it’s not going somewhere but, for example, like in the Olympics you’d expect that for the next Olympics, they would’ve raised the number of weights (classes) to maybe five or six but they kept it at three so that’d be a sign that like they’re not raising the profile so far that it would be equal to men’s so, yes, it’s moving, but probably not at the right speed.”
That lack of expansion in the female ranks of Olympic boxing is something that could cost Clare Grace a place in Rio De Janeiro in just under 24 months’ time, although she hasn’t ruled out jumping up a weight class in order to be in contention. It’s a frustrating situation for such a prodigious talent, a feeling which the media coverage of women’s sports also evokes in her, it seems.
“Media coverage is always an issue for female sport. Obviously, Katie Taylor has just been starting to get coverage that she deserves and the same with a lot of sports. As I’ve said before female boxing is growing and there is more coverage than there was before but whether it’s growing fast enough? Probably not.
“We’re a long, long way from equality” says Grace.
Right now though, the Kilkenny student has her crosshairs fixated on South Korea as, in three weeks’ time, she jets off to Jeju for the Women’s World Boxing Championships. However, as treasurer of the ever-growing DCU Boxing Club and the penultimate year of a degree to get through, it’s probably going to be her time-management skills that come in handy most over the course of the next month.