Céire Smith chasing World University Championships glory following “roller coaster” year

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The World University Championships begin next week in Thailand and Ireland will send their largest ever squad to the tournament in South East Asia.

A panel of five will fly to Chang Mai where they will look to bring back Ireland’s first ever medals from a championships often overlooked on these shores.

Leading the way, in terms of experience, is Céire Smith. A long-time member of the Irish team, the Cavan fighter has participated in three World Championships and two European Championships, among other tournaments.

2016 has been a self-described “up-and-down” and “roller coaster” year for the flyweight – who turns 24 today. Describing the past few months, the one-time Rio hopeful outlined how she suffered “a controversial defeat of my National Senior title to begin with.”

“I had deferred [college] the year purposely to prepare as I was going for my sixth national senior title and a chance to represent Ireland at the Olympic qualifiers,” Smith told Irish-Boxing.com

The later withdrawal of the woman who defeated her in the Senior finals, Belfast’s Michaela Walsh, meant that Smith was sprung back into action as Ireland’s prospective Olympic female flyweight. A late-notice trip to the European Olympic Qualifier in Turkey saw Smith win one bout before being controversially beaten on a split-decision by eventual Olympian Tetyana Kob. The Ulster woman however isn’t keen to complain about the reversal to the Ukrainian and feels that “my decision versus Ukraine could have went either way to be honest.”

“I received two days notification of the training camp prior to Samsun and I joined the team late in Italy.”

“It was a hard defeat personally because I felt I wasn’t at my best and with more preparation I could have certainly qualified.”

“It was straight back to the drawing board as the second qualifier [World Championships in Kazakhstan] was a few weeks later. Again another split decision to the Colombian who won bronze in Rio. That was the end of my Rio dream.”

Smith’s talents are undoubted. Last year she defeated the 2014 World Champion Marlen Esparza of the USA in a multi-nations – said by some to be the victory which convinced Team USA of Billy Walsh’s ability as a coach. This year, Smith actually defeated the eventual Rio silver medalist. Recalling her win over Frenchwoman Sarah Ourahmoune, Smith described how “it was a fight which I got little or no notice for.”

“It was changed on the night, as I was due to box the French #2. This didn’t phase me and I was happy to step in the ring with the ex-World champion as I had dominated the sparring in the training camp. It is a confidence boost as I know I can not only compete, but beat the best in the World.”

Ahead of the tournament in Thailand, Smith claims that “I am going to treat it like any other tournament.”

“I focus on one contest at a time. If I perform to my best I hope the results come.”

“It is a championships that isn’t widely talked about, but after reading into it the past few months I’m aware that the standard is very high and it draws in quality opponents from much of Eastern Europe.”

Smith is currently a third year in Sport Science and Health at Dublin City University and admits that it is “difficult” juggling both Higher Education and being a World class athlete. While she stresses that “I get a lot of support from both university and the IABA… trying to maintain twice a day training and keeping on top of study and assignments is a talent in itself. Its definitely something I could work on more.”

Education is a “massive priority” for the Breffni boxer, and her chosen subject is one she is passionate about. Smith outlined how “studying health here in DCU really has me placing an emphasis on the importance of people getting involved in sports too. As the #1 most obese country in Europe it’s not only important for their physical health but will improve their mental health too.”

In terms of education for Irish boxers in general, Smith thinks that “more educational talks need to be given to our underage boxers. I’m sure when they finish sport or pick up an injury there is a massive void to fill.”

“Being a student can introduce a good balance and variety to your life. The dependence and pressure is eased a lot as your focus is shifted on various things.”

“Personally I would encourage kids to find a balance between sport and study as in years to come they will perhaps want to follow a career path but don’t have the necessary results.”

“I’m lucky to have come from a great gym with a fantastic coach and get placed on the HP team for Ireland however Irish boxing is extremely competitive and not everyone can make it to the top level.”

“Yes there will be some showcase talent that wins major medals and joins top professional ranks, but, realistically, not everyone will.”

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]