The new European Elite Women’s Middleweight champion, Aoife O’Rourke, returned home to Castlerea to a hero’s welcome last Sunday.
The Castlerea Boxing Club fighter was the name on everyone’s lips following her impressive gold medal win in Madrid on Saturday night which saw her become only the second Irish female fighter, after Katie Taylor, to take the title at the championships.
“I didn’t even know that until I had won my semi-final,” she responds when the scale of her achievement is put to her.
Strangely, the 21-year-old didn’t suffer from pre-fight nerves ahead of her semi-final against Russian Olympic Youth and World Youth champion Anastasia Shamonova, an opponent who had beaten her before.
“Normally I’d be very, very nervous but that was the most relaxed I’d ever been. I wasn’t worried about winning or losing. I just wanted to see that I had improved,” she said.
Her improvement was noted by the judges who awarded her a 4-1 split decision and the right to fight for gold against Poland’s Elziebta Wojcik.
She gave a mature and composed performance in the gold medal fight against the Polish southpaw but claims she was still uncertain about the result right up until her arm was raised.
“I wasn’t sure. My coaches looked very happy and they were celebrating even before my hand went up. I’m useless at knowing or calling a fight and because it was a final I knew it could go either way. I gave it my all though and I could see her getting tired. I emptied the tank in that fight”.
Aoife praised both her Team Ireland coaches, Zaur Antia and Damien Kennedy, and her Castlerea Boxing Club coach Paddy Sharkey.
“The coaches had the tactics spot on. Zaur is a genius in how he sees things. They gave me the confidence to go out and fight because they weren’t asking me to do things I hadn’t done before.
“It was Paddy’s first time to come out for a tournament with Ireland and it was great to have him there,” she said.
As for last Sunday’s homecoming and the reaction to her win, Aoife says it’s still sinking in.
“I didn’t want any fuss really. Now that I’m home there are loads of notifications on Facebook. I’m not really one for social media but I was being tagged in so many posts during the competition. It’s nice to see I was being mentioned and there are people who I wouldn’t have thought were following me wishing me well.
“The homecoming was unbelievable and it was incredible the amount of people who came out,” she said.
There’s no suggestion of resting on her laurels for the Castlerea middleweight, however, and Aoife was back working hard in the gym on Tuesday as she sets her sights on qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.