NACs 2022: women’s Under 63kg preview – Dunne v Hickey
April 22, 2022 | by Matt Halfpenny
The harder you work for something the more you appreciate it, so they say… and after the blood, sweat and tears it has taken to make her top-level comeback, boxing mum Sarah Dunne is unlikely to disagree.
Although a later starter to the sport at 21, the Female Under 63kg title contender at tomorrow’s (Saturday 23rd April) England Boxing National Amateur Championships 2022 Finals Day is no stranger to success having won national crowns at Class C (0-5 bouts) in 2012, Class B (6-10 bouts) in 2013 and Class A (10+ bouts) in 2014 for Bury ABC.
But having taken a considerable amount of time off from the sport to get married and have baby daughter Nuala, she believes it would be her biggest achievement yet to win in the Open class, Elite category for a second time.
At the age of 33, having come so close by losing on a 3-2 split to Jem Campbell of Islington in December’s 2021 final, she believes the time is now for her to come full circle and reign supreme as the best in the country once more.
“I had about three years out of the sport and I just started doing a bit of fitness work after I had had my daughter just to lose my baby weight and get a bit fitter again,” said Dunne. “Not long after that we went into the first Covid lockdown and I just kept training through that, out in the back yard.
“Once clubs started opening up again, that’s when I got back in the gym and gradually got back into it. I got stuck in a bit of a rut doing the same training and things before I gave it up, but now I’m back, I’m enjoying it again.
“I won’t pretend that it is easy… going to work then picking my daughter up from nursery and dropping her off to be looked after by my husband while I go training. I don’t have much spare time like I used to before.
“But I just thought that I hadn’t achieved all that I could in boxing, and felt I owed it to myself to give it another go and see if I could get back up there. I’d love to box internationally.
“I was gutted to get so close in December, but if I could do it this time then I think to would be biggest achievement of my career because I have had to put so much more into it than last time I was at this level.”
Dunne, who’s day job with Active Lancashire sees her bidding to get people from all walks of life more physically active, says she was inspired to return to boxing by other mums who have stepped back through the ropes.
After seeing Attleborough’s Charley Davison win a national title at the last Manchester Central Finals Day in 2019 – and go on to box for GB at the Tokyo Olympic Games – as well as watching Nina Hughes of Chadwell St Mary taste more national success after beginning parenthood, she was determined to see if she still had what it took.
Dunne said: “If it hadn’t have been for those women doing what they have done, and made comebacks after having children, then I don’t know if I would have thought I could do it myself, so I’m thankful to them.
“I never realised before that people did it – not just Charlie and Nina, but others I have boxed too – and you think if they can do it then why can’t I?
“I would like to think that I am helping other women think the same in the future too… that having children doesn’t need to be the end of your sporting ambitions.”
Now with the Metro Community Boxing Gym, Bolton, Dunne makes the short trip to Manchester alongside club-mate Ibrahim Kola, who has reached the final of the Male Under 48kg category.
She is looking forward to some support from fellow members and, hopefully, husband Brian and two-year-old Nuala.
“It’s a great gym and a great example of how boxing is so good at reaching out to its local community,” said Dunne. “There are people from all walks of life and of all ages… we’ve got a guy who’s 70-odd and still comes along to have a go on the pads and bags.
Kola, as we all call him, is someone I spar with, and I know he is relishing the opportunity to box the man who beat him in the final last year (Ellis Trowbridge) in what is an interesting clash of styles.
“It’s good for the gym to have a man and a woman competing in the finals and its only 20 minutes down the road, so we hope to get a good few of the members along to watch. Brian may bring Nuala down as well, though we haven’t decided yet.”
Dunne has noticed a huge difference in women’s boxing since her return and hopes the changes for the better continue.
“I’m expecting a tough bout in the final, but that is the way you want it to be and it’s great that the standard is improving all the time.
“When I first started competing in this, it was a separate event from the men and it was basically in a room with just a tarpaulin separating the ring from the changing rooms.
“Now we have the big build-up, lights, smoke and it’s on the BBC, just like the men, so we’re starting to see things level and hopefully, eventually, we’ll have a situation where we have the same number of Olympic weights for the women and the men.”
In contrast to her opponent, Peacock Gym’s Sacha Hickey has been boxing from an early age after taking an unorthobox route into the sport.
As she explained: “A lot of people get into boxing to get fitter, help with anxiety or mental health problems, give them more confidence or other things… I did it after playing on a Nintendo Wii (gaming console)!
“My older bothers and I were playing a boxing game on the Wii and one of them decided they wanted to try actual boxing. They both went along to a club and I was having a tantrum because I wanted to have a go as well.
“Fortunately, the coach let me come along and that’s how it all started. My brothers weren’t bad boxers, but they haven’t done as well as I have, so I’ve got the bragging rights in the family.
“I’m not sure who’d win if we had a go on the Wii now… I might have to challenge them to a game!”
A Junior European champion in 2019 – winning out in Romania – Hickey had hoped to match that achievement at Youth Level in Montenegro last year.
However, government Covid-19 restrictions at that time meant the team was unable to go, leaving Hickey disappointed, but like other members of that squad, Shaun Huddart and Jack Dryden, it has helped motivate them to achieve success in their respective first years at senior level by reaching Finals Day.
Hickey said: “It was pretty gutting not to go to the Euros in the end after all the training, but it was taken out of our hands and there was nothing we could do about it, so you just have to move on.
“It was the same for some of the other members of the squad who were due to go and it’s no coincidence that some of them are also in this finals. It shows that the England system is obviously working.
“I think everything happens for a reason and I’m happy with where my boxing is at. I hope to box for GB – if they’ll have me – or turn pro if not, so when I had the news I just got my head down in the gym and tried to work even harder.”
Teenager Hickey, 18, has beaten Sabrina Faizal (Bicester, quarter-finals) and Harli Whitwell (St Ives, semi-finals) to get to this stage and is not intimidated by taking on an opponent in Dunne who is almost twice her age.
Given she boasts an outstanding record and has only ever lost one bout – in her first European Championships – her confidence is hardly surprising.
Hickey also feels she has benefited in the past from her training stints with England at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield and when competing for her country overseas.
She said: “I haven’t really found it a problem stepping up to this level because I’ve always sparred people who are older than me right from being 11, 12 and 13.
“I’ve always tried to go up against people of a high level to help me improve and that’s made me feel comfortable in there in the bouts I’ve had.
“You can look at it in two ways. You can say my opponent has more experience, but you can also say I have youth on my side. At the end of the day age is just a number and it’s about who boxes better on the day.
“What I would say is that my international experience had helped me in terms of boxing on consecutive days and in environments you aren’t used to. In fact, boxing in these quarters and semis at the University of East London was probably the closest to home I have ever boxed!”
Living in Eltham, South East London, Hickey spends the best part of an hour traveling to her gym via train, bus and walking stints, but she has been aided in recent times by giving up her Sixth Form place to concentrate on training full-time.
Like Dunne, she has witnessed big changes in women’s boxing since she first walked into a gym and has noted a rise both in standards and the number of participants in competition.
“I’ve really noticed a difference in the last two or three years,” said Hickey. “When I first started there were lots of straight finals and now some of the girls are having three or four bouts to reach a final.
“It’s not just that there are more people boxing, but that those who are boxing are better. It’s looking good for the future of the sport.”
Show you support
Members of the public are welcome to attend England Boxing National Amateur Championships 2022 Finals Day, with the action starting at 1pm (12noon doors), with a 30-minute break from 4pm to 4.30pm halfway through the action.
Tickets are available to purchase on the day only by cash or by card. Prices are £20 per adult, £10 per concession (over 65), £5 per child (six to 15-year-olds) and free for those five and under. Please note, no £50 notes will be accepted.
You can watch the Finals Day boxing live on BBC Sport by clicking here (please note that the link will not go live until shortly before the boxing starts on Saturday).
Boxing will begin at 1pm with a mid-session break from 4pm to 4.30pm.
Follow the action
The link to coverage will also be made available via the link on the England Boxing’s Instagram home page.
You can find out more about the England Boxing National Amateur Championships 2022 by clicking here and follow the action across our social media – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok – via the hashtag #EBNAC22.