BY KIERAN McCARTHY
A YEAR that started in fanfare ended on a low note – but world champion kickboxer Lily de la Cour, as always, prefers to focus on the positives.
2016 was only nine days old when the Bantry kickboxer (22) was unveiled as the 2015 Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Year, a deserving accolade for the West Cork Kickboxing Club star who, the previous month, won gold in her category (-50kg) at the senior WAKO World Kickboxing Championships held in Dublin.
It was a terrific start to 2016 for a West Cork sports woman whose trophy haul in kickboxing packs a punch of its own, and includes being an 11-time All-Ireland junior champion, finishing her junior career as the top ranked junior fighter in the world, and she is currently a four-time All-Ireland senior champion, and there’s a lot more besides that.
The early months of 2016 saw Lily win her weight division in the WAKO Irish Open International in Dublin – the most attended tournament in Europe every year – before she went on to win another national senior championship title, and by doing so she earned her place on the Irish national team.
Then disaster struck.
At the end of August, as she was sparring with junior fighters at a West Cork Kickboxing Club training session to help them prepare ahead of the European championships, Lily went over on her ankle.
‘I was sparring and when I sidestepped, I really rolled on my ankle. There was a loud crack out of it,’ she recalled.
‘Thankfully, I didn’t pull the ligament off the bone but it did rip a small bit. But it’s healing away, faster than I had hoped.
‘It will probably take another three or four months to be absolutely perfect.’
That injury ended her season, just when it was about to pick up pace.
‘That ruled me out of the European senior championshispin October – but it was great to see Deirdre Begley (West Cork Kickboxing Club) go there and she got a silver medal,’ Lily said.
‘I was also planning to go to the Bristol Open as well but once I rolled over on the ankle I knew that those things were out.
‘It was mainly the Europeans that I missed, but I wasn’t 100 per cent confirmed to be going there because I was trying to find a job and was graduating from UCC, but it was always at the back of my mind, in case dates changed.’
Lily has been fortunate enough when it comes to injuries – touch wood – with the only other serious injury of note being an elbow injury. Of course, it’s been frustrating having to watch on these past few months but her comeback is on schedule and she also sees this as an opportunity to improve her own skillset.
‘I know when I hurt my elbow before, I really changed my game plan. I had to fight completely different to what I was used to and I was out of my comfort zone but because I couldn’t use my left arm as much as I usually did, it brought on my legs,’ she said.
‘Maybe this year, because of the injury, I will focus more on my boxing skills. It will be different, it will be a challenge and I am sure Ian (Kingston, her trainer) will come up with something for me.’
IF 2016 was a frustrating year for Lily de la Cour, she hopes to take it out on 2017 by defending her WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organisations) world senior title.
The European and world championships work on a two-year cycle so – and it’s a silver lining, if she was looking for one – at least her ankle injury didn’t KO her dreams of defending the title she worked so hard for.
Lily started back sparring in November and has been stepping it up ever since to be ready for January and the start of the new year.
‘In 2017 I have to defend my world title so it’s a big year for me,’ Lily explained.
‘It will start off with the Irish International Open again in Dublin early in the new year and then I will try to work my way onto the Irish team again.
‘There are a lot of young fighters coming up from the junior ranks in my category (-50kg) so hopefully I will have some tough competition to get on the Irish team. I want a tough challenge because that will force me to improve.
‘The plan then next summer is to head to as many internationals as I can, like the Italian World Cup and maybe the Hungarian World Cup, which was one of the big competitions in 2016.
‘The main goal will be the world championships.’
The difference between the 2015 worlds and the 2017 championships is that Lily now goes in as world champion and the fighter that everyone wants to beat. That brings its own pressure and expectations. But she’s not taking her eye off the ball just because she has won one world senior championship. In Conor McGregor parlance, she’s not here to take part, she’s here to take over.
‘The desire is still there, definitely,’ said Lily, who also graduated from UCC in the past year and spent time as a sub teacher, teaching English, at Bandon Grammar School late in the year.
‘I always said that the primary goal in my sporting career was to win gold at the world senior championships. I felt that if I won that, then I would of course continue to go to these competitions but that I would enjoy them a bit more because the pressure of wanting to win the first one is gone.
‘I want to enjoy the experience now without the stress that I would put on myself to perform.
‘Of course there is a certain pressure on me now as a world champion to defend my title but I will go with the same approach as last year – to enjoy it and have fun.
‘If I get a medal, fantastic. If not, at least I tried. But the plan is to retain the title.’
So while the latter end of 2016 didn’t go quite according to plan, the 2015 Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Year is determined to pack a punch in 2017 – and nobody will bet against her.