Paddy Sharkey has been in Aoife O’Rourke’s corner ever since she walked into Castlerea Boxing Club in her mid-teens. Since then he has watched over her as she developed into an elite-level amateur at the High Performance Unit in Dublin.
Speaking to the Roscommon People just this week, Paddy reckons the magnitude of what Aoife has achieved in qualifying for Tokyo hasn’t yet hit home for many in Castlerea and the wider county.
“To be honest, I don’t think it has fully sunk in…but there’s awful excitement around the town with the flags around the place and it’s great to see people getting into the swing of it,” he said.
“We seem to take things in our stride in this part of the world. If this was America or some place there would be a big thing made of it…local girl qualifies for the Olympics…but I don’t think it’s fully hit home yet how big an achievement this is”.
Paddy’s been on the road with Aoife since she arrived in “looking to do some fitness training for the football”. When they weren’t covering hundreds of kilometres to make competitions or far-flung sparring sessions, he had Aoife running the roads.
“Six evenings we’d be down here in the boxing club training for a couple of hours a night,” he explains.
“She doesn’t stop training. She always wants to be doing that bit more. You can see that drive and passion in her every single time she gets into the ring. She came down to get a bit of fitness work in for the Gaelic football and ended up falling in love with boxing. She was always very determined,” he said.
The Castlerea coach could tell from very early on that Aoife was that little bit different from the rest.
“I don’t think there’s a panic button built into her. Even now, I talk to her on the phone every so often and she’s in great form and looking forward to it. It’s been a long training camp for her but it’s gone really well and she was just looking forward to getting it started.
“We could tell from the very first time she boxed at the National Stadium in Dublin that there was something there. There’s nothing left to chance and she leaves everything in the ring every time she steps in there,” he added.
According to Paddy, Aoife’s sister, Lisa, isn’t far behind in terms of her own development.
“Lisa is just back from Tokyo, she was over with Aoife for while. They really work well together and that was great for Aoife because she loves being at home so it helped with any homesickness too.
“Lisa is due back in training soon with the U-22s coming up. She is hot on Aoife’s heels now but it’s great that they thrive off each other. You don’t always get that with siblings so it’s a big help!”
Attitude and ‘will to win’ are two vital weapons in Aoife’s arsenal. Her approach to the training is relentless and Paddy believes there’s still much more to come.
“There was one time she had been double-booked. There was a sparring session arranged in Connemara and then the High Performance Unit were on and said she needed to spar up in Dublin. Aoife’s attitude was ‘Sure, let’s do both!’ A 350-mile round trip…but you do these things!
“I spoke to (former World Champion) Bernard Dunne a couple of years ago and I said, ‘This girl is going to win a medal at the Olympics’. I’m that confident in her.
“But…she doesn’t have to win a medal for me to be proud of her. Look, when we were growing up and when I was boxing, the Olympics were always there, but you’d never really think it was possible. Ever since Aoife started boxing this has taken a road of its own.
“A huge factor in all of this is how supportive her parents have been of her training. They just let us get on with it and put their faith in the coaching,” he said.
Paddy also reserved a special mention for Ballymoe’s Richael Timothy, who will be competing at the Tokyo Paralympics in August.
“It’s great that we have two local girls heading to Tokyo this year. Richael Timothy is a mighty girl. She came down training with us in Castlerea and she was unbelievable. We could never find the bottom of her fitness (reserves). She is an incredible athlete and we wish her all the best out there,” he said.