BY KIERAN McCARTHY
IAN Kingston is the common denominator in this story. Three of West Cork Kickboxing Club’s finest fly out later this week to the 2019 WAKO Senior World Championships and their success can all be traced back to Ian.
Current European and former world champion Lily de la Cour from Bantry hails the Drimoleague man as ‘phenomenal, motivated and selfless.’
Tony Stephenson, also from Bantry and a multiple World and European champ, hails Ian as the best in the business, while the relative newcomer, Greg Sheehan from Douglas, makes the trip from the city to Skibbereen a couple of nights every week to train at West Cork Kickboxing Club because of Ian.
He’s the man who founded West Cork Kickboxing Club in 1988 and he hasn’t stopped since. Ian’s a coach, a mentor, a friend, a gentleman and, at training sessions, a moving target for all his kickboxers. He’s also the national coach too, and that’s a massive help to Lily, Tony and Greg when they compete at the World championships in Sarajevo, which run from October 19th to 27th.
‘I have been training with Ian since I was six and I’m nearly 28 now,’ Tony explains.
‘I’ve had Ian in my corner and I have had fights where Ian hasn’t been in my corner and there is a big difference. It’s a big stress reliever having Ian in our corner.
‘He knows how I think, how to motivate me, how to get the best out of me and that’s from years and years at it.’
At the 2017 World championships Tony won bronze in his -69kg category and his target next week is gold. That’s the colour medal he wants. It’s the same for Lily. This is the Bantry woman who has won it all at junior and senior level, but she comes back for more every year. In 2015 she won her first senior World gold, in her -50kg category, but there was heartbreak two years later when she controversially lost the final in Budapest. She was on the receiving end of some bad decisions in the final against a home-town Hungarian fighter. That stung. And it hurt. Lily was dejected afterwards. But that disappointment drove her on. The Worlds have been good and bad to her.
‘My biggest memory is 2015 winning the senior world title. That was always my dream to win that, it’s the pinnacle of our sport. Two years later I won silver and that was devastating at the time, it took a long time to get over it,’ she admits, but she’s in great shape ahead of the 2019 Worlds. Gold is her aim but she needs to make sure she is in the position to fight for it.
‘If I keep thinking that I want to win gold, I stop thinking about the first step which is the first fight,’ the 25-year-old explains.
‘Our sport is very similar to others, if we don’t win our first competition then we’re knocked out, so for me it’s try to win my first fight, try to compete as best I can and if that gets me past the first round, that’s fantastic. If that can get me a medal, that’s fantastic, and I want to change the colour of it (from 2017). I want to win a gold medal, that’s the main goal. If I can compete really well, let’s see what happens.’
Lily’s -50kg category is the lightest division for women and she, like Tony and Greg, qualified to represent Ireland by being the best nationally – and that can be traced back to Ian Kingston, the mastermind behind it all.
‘Ian is my biggest role model in sport, and in life as well, alongside my parents,’ Lily says.
‘He has been training for over 30 years, the majority is self-taught, he went all around the country learning his trade before starting up the club here. Year in, year out, he is phenomenal, he is so motivated and so selfless, it’s all about our betterment and helping us reach our goals.’
Greg Sheehan’s goal at these World championships, his first, is gold as well, but he knows too that he needs to put himself in a position to compete for it. His journey to West Cork Kickboxing Club is different to Lily’s and Tony’s. From Douglas and with a strong background in taekwondo (where he has competed at World and European levels), Greg’s story with Ian and West Cork Kickboxing Club began at the 2015 Worlds held in Dublin, the championships where Lily won gold.
Greg was there to support a friend, Ryan Shelly, but he liked what he saw.
‘At this stage I had never done any kickboxing training, but I was always fascinated by it. I always wanted to experiment with it, to train with it, just to give my training something different,’ he explains.
‘I asked Ryan if he could recommend any kickboxing club or kickboxing coach. He said he’d be right back to me. He came back ten minutes later with Ian Kingston. Ian is the national coach this year and he was national coach that year as well.
‘I sat down with Ian and the first thing anyone who knows Ian will say is that he is a gentleman, he’s very obliging, he is very mannerly. After speaking to him I got a really good vibe from him.
‘Ryan said Ian is one of the best coaches in the country and, not only that, one of the best in the world. I asked Ian where the gym was. He said Bantry. I wasn’t driving at the time. I came down for a couple of sessions and I was completely blown away by the training. That was four years ago and I have been coming down ever since. I fell in love with it.’
Now Lily, Tony and Greg will represent Ireland at the WAKO World Championships with Ian in their corner, a remarkable achievement again by a club that has put West Cork kickboxing on the map and that continues to play such an important role locally.
‘I started when I was seven and I still love it as much now as then. It’s about the people. There have been years where you have to push through a small bit but this year I have really enjoyed it, and the junior team that I trained with were great fun. I don’t know how long I will compete for but at the moment I am loving it,’ adds Lily.