Newly-crowned European champion Lily de la Cour has won the one medal that had been missing from her trophy cabinet. KIERAN McCARTHY spoke to the Bantry fighter about her latest success and why she feels vindicated
LILY de la Cour has completed her collection of kickboxing medals.
She’s won all the big ones. The ones that matter. The medals that every kickboxer wants.
The 24-year-old is a phenomenon.
At the recent WAKO European Kickboxing Championships in Slovenia, Lily fought her way to gold in her -50kg category, and won the one medal she was missing: senior European gold.
It’s worth noting too that this was Lily’s first time competing at a senior Europeans. She was injured in 2016 and that tournament also coincided with her graduation. And she didn’t travel to what would have been her first Europeans in 2014.
So, now, the Bantry woman – sponsored by Bantry Bath & Tile – has won world and European gold at both senior and junior level, not to mention the national titles that run well into double figures; 11 as a junior, and now five as a senior. And then there are all the medals outside of those as well.
‘This was the last one on my list of goals so I’m delighted,’ she beamed.
‘As a junior I won world and European gold, and at senior level I’ve won world and European gold as well.
‘That’s it now. I’ve them all won.’
Her record is remarkable. But Lily is remarkable too. Easily one of West Cork’s brightest and best sports stars. And she takes it all in her stride. Bubbly, outgoing, engaging, inspiring, she has it all. The perfect role model for any young woman to look up to. How she reacted to relinquishing her world title last year highlights the strength of the character we’re talking about.
Lily scaled the top of the world in 2015. She was the world champion in her category. As the Europeans and worlds rotate every second year, the West Cork Kickboxing Club star defended her world crown last December in Budapest.
But it didn’t work out as planned. The number one seed had to settle for silver. That hurt.
She was on the receiving end of some bad decisions from the judges in the final. She lost on a split decision to a hometown Hungarian fighter. She was harshly penalised at different stages in the final, too.
‘When I got the silver medal, I was dejected,’ she admitted.
‘Once I talked it through with Ian (Kingston, her coach), reviewed my performance and watched it over a few times, I realised that I had fought really well even though I lost.
‘There were a lot of external factors involved too. Some were within my control, some were outside my control, so once I realised how I could improve and that some of it wasn’t my fault, I put the head down and worked hard.
‘I enjoyed my training a lot more this year. We trained hard, we changed up some tactics and it all worked out in the end.’
That disappointment drove the St Mary’s Secondary School, Macroom teacher on this year. She had a point to prove.
‘This year was really important to me,’ Lily says.
‘I was really disappointed to come second in the world final last year because I wanted to retain my title.
‘It was a tough defeat to take and there were some bad feelings after. I was thinking should I just pack it all in and should I bother with the Europeans; all these thoughts were going through my head.
‘It was quite emotional after I won at the Europeans because I felt a small bit vindicated after what happened last year. It’s given me a great boost again. I was glad that I worked hard for the year.’
She’s a better fighter now than at any other stage of her career. And that’s saying something considering she was the best in the world in 2015.
Each year, with the help of Ian, she gets better.
‘This year I saw a massive difference in my performance,’ she explains.
‘I spent a lot more time working one-to-one with Ian and that benefitted me. We changed a few tactics and we added a few bits in as well to our game plan.
‘This year I put a huge amount of effort into it, I am fighting better than I ever have, and I still have loads to learn so it’s really exciting.’
Let’s talk specifics for one moment. What part of Lily’s style has she elevated?
‘Timing has always been one of my strengths. I have good timing and good footwork, and we capitalised on that this year,’ she says.
‘I am quite a bouncy fighter. I used to bounce a bit too high but we spent a lot of time this year focussing on my footwork and my timing. My kicks improved a good bit too. I’m a better fighter now, it’s the best I have ever been, but we know there’s room for improvement.’
To understand Lily’s motivation to keep going in a sport she has conquered, you need to understand that she loves kickboxing. It’s in her bones.
She started when she was seven years old. And was hooked. She dominated as a junior and ended those days as the best in the world. As a senior, she’s been as impressive. And dominant.
The juggernaut rolls on, snaffling up the gold medals and trophies.
So even though she has won all there is to win, and she’s still only 24, Lily will be back again next year, hungry and refreshed and ready to do it all again.
One question, Lily: why?
‘Winning and training is addictive,’ she answers.
‘I love what I’m doing. I love the sport, the training, the people I train with.
‘This year the junior team trained all summer long and I trained with them. They are so young, talented and fresh, they keep me on my toes, and seeing them enjoying training so much it motivated me to keep going.
‘Ian is so passionate as well. We’d only just be finished a tournament and he would say, “right, we need a meeting now next week and put a plan in place”.
‘It’s such a part of my life at this stage, I don’t know anything else and I’m still enjoying it.’
And she’s still smiling. Like she was after picking up European gold in Slovenia where she won all her fights by unanimous decision. Lily took care of a tall, tricky Turkish fighter first. Her second fight against a German kickboxer was more straightforward; she wanted to get in close and box and that’s easy pickings for Lily who will pick them off.
Her semi-final against Austrian Lisa Kossler was her toughest fight. They know each other well. They’ve fought numerous times at international level. And Kossler was gunning for Lily. The Bantry woman was in control for most of this contest apart from 30 seconds in the third round when she lost focus. Quickly regained, she won.
The final against Slovakian Dominika Karchova was a routine win.
‘We’d never fought before, but it turned out to be my easiest fight and that’s the first time that has happened. She ran at me, wanted to stay close, so that suited me grand,’ says Lily, who will have Santa scratching his head over the next few weeks: What do you get the world-class kickboxer who was won it all?