"Out of the womb and straight into kickboxing": Meet Ireland's kickboxing dynasties

"Out of the womb and straight into kickboxing": Meet Ireland's kickboxing dynasties "Out of the womb and straight into kickboxing": Meet Ireland's kickboxing dynasties
Grace Fisher

Squabbles between siblings may be a normal part of growing up, but when kickboxing is the family passion, such fights are a bit more skilled.

Through Kickboxing Ireland, Her Sport recently had the chance to speak with sisters Lucy and Halle Conlon-Oates and their coach and mum Aine, as well as fellow Irish fighter Jodie Browne, all freshly returned from the WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organisations) Austrian Classics Kickboxing World Cup (Halle and Jodie with gold for their efforts).

When asked if Lucy and Halle are ever competitive with each other in training, they and Aine laugh.

"We've been banned from sparring," says Halle, 15, and Lucy, 16, backs her up : "We always say we'll go easy on each other, and then someone hits a little bit harder then the other person expected, and then it's not even a kickboxing fight, it's just a full-on fight."

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Lucy Conlon-Oates // Liz White Photos

Jodie, who has represented Ireland internationally since 2014, has won gold in the World and European Championships for the past 5 years and is the current World and European champion. Lucy and Halle still compete in the junior category, but both are world and European medalists and have 22 national titles between them.

Apparently it's helpful to have an older sibling in the sport: Halle and Lucy are following in the footsteps of older sister Ruth, a European champion. Jodie, too, is part of a kickboxing dynasty; her older sister Keri has also won world medals.

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Aine, Ruth, and Halle Conlon-Oates Courtesy KBI

There are two Conlon-Oates brothers, too, but while Matthew and Donagh Jr. have given the sport a try, they both prefer football (and dad's a football coach).

The family passion began with Aine, who started kickboxing as a child because she didn't like team sports, but her mother thought she should be involved in something. After a brief stint in karate, she followed some family friends to a kickboxing club.

"I suppose back then, thirty years ago I was twelve, it was brave of her to send her daughter down to kickboxing club, girls weren't doing this. So I went in and had a look, but she should've brought my suitcase, because I just lived there."

And that was that. Aine made it to the national team and competed in World and European championships, winning silver and bronze; she only stopped competing in 2019 to focus more on coaching her children, all of whom started around age four.

Jodie Browne, 20, also started at three or four years old– "out of the womb and straight into kickboxing," she says—following her eight-year-old sister Keri, who was being bullied.

"It was 'she starts I have to start,' and I literally hated it until I was 12, when I started competing. I'm really competitive as a person."

It's undoubtedly that fighting spirit that carries Jodie to success. When asked to name a career highlight, Jodie remembers winning her first world title in 2018, against Asia Georghiou of Great Britain.

Jodie Browne courtesy KBI

"I was actually down by six points, going into the final round, and I got back and won by one point so I don't know how I pulled out...it was a really tough competition and I still don't know to this day how I won it, but I did, by the scrape of my teeth!"

More European championships followed and a second world title in 2021, and Jodie has no sign of slowing down anytime soon—her year ahead is packed with competitions, including the European Olympic Games, which she says she's looking forward to most.

"Anything with the Olympics in it, it's literally been a dream since I was a baby, and I never thought I'd get anywhere near, so being in places with the rings...it's just huge."

Jodie should be confident going into those games after her successful campaign in Austria, especially as two of her successes there were against women she'll be competing against in the Olympic Games. She also got a glimpse of Olympic glory as Team Ireland arrived and saw the iconic rings on the outside of the hall.

"A bit overwhelming, to be honest," says Jodie—but with a grin. Kickboxing is being considered for inclusion in the 2028 Olympics.

The Conlon-Oates met with more mixed success in Austria, though Aine explains she's happy enough with their main goal, which was to get competition in ahead of the Irish Nationals in May.

Lucy competed in points fighting in two weight categories and in the first was eliminated in the quarterfinals, losing to the eventual champion. Unfortunately she went down with a migraine and was eliminated early on in her second category.

"It ruined the whole mindset for me...I was just so worried about it," she says ruefully.

"And it didn't help that she could only see out of one eye," adds Aine, and both laugh.

Halle won her gold in light-contact with a buy-in to the final, but she modestly notes that the category is a lot smaller than Lucy's and seems almost more pleased with her silver in the kick-light final, which she lost by only a few points to current world number one Wiktoria Zober (who's also three years older than Halle).

Points or semi-contact fighting pauses each time a strike is landed successfully, so it favours quicker fighters, whereas light contact and kick-light are continuous, so they require more stamina.

Aine's favourite is light contact and Halle likes both light-contact and kick-light. Jodie and Lucy both prefer points fighting.

"I hate the terminology that points fighting isn't considered real fighting," says Jodie. "People call it tippy-tappy and I hate that because I had a black eye last week from points! It's just one solid punch rather than more light punches, basically."

In whatever style they choose, it's certain that both Conlon-Oates girls, like Jodie, have a career worth watching ahead of them. In the meantime they and Aine face the challenges of balancing training, school, and family life—perhaps made more difficult by the fact that they're all involved together.

Of training her own children, Aine says (though laughing), "Oh, it's hard. They absolutely break my heart." She remembers one time before a big final for Lucy she was so nervous that her hands were shaking so much she couldn't help her daughter with her headguard (the national coach gently told her to take a walk).

But, of course, it's wonderful too. Aine recalls the highlight of her own career—against an idol of hers, at home in Sligo—but says that "comparing that to now, watching these guys win big—it's nothing. Watching them win, reach their dreams, to me it's far better than what I've ever done." To be the primary person getting them there must be special too.

Her daughters say they also struggle with nerves, as does Jodie. Halle says she tries to focus on positive thinking (and remembering either way 'you're not gonna die,') and her sister mentions music as a strategy, which all agree helps get them pumped up—Lucy likes Eminem or Tupac and Halle likes Meek Mill (Jodie likes Jaden Smith's "Icon" from the Creed movies.) Aine prefers Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off."

Kickboxing is a rapidly growing sport in Ireland and worldwide. Aine, who serves as Membership Manager for Kickboxing Ireland, says they've seen thousands of new members in the past few years alone.

The increased interest in women's MMA sports has probably helped that growth—take Shauna Bannon, who won 7 WAKO world titles and is now an undefeated MMA fighter with Invicta. But many are also joining the sport for its fitness benefits at any level, or for the confidence that comes with knowing self-defence.

Despite their years of experience, each fighter Her Sport spoke to is adamant in encouraging newcomers, especially women, to try the sport.

"Don't be intimidated, just go for it," says Lucy, "and if it's not for you, it's not for you, but definitely try it out, it's great to see more girls in a combat sport."

"It's amazing what can happen in six months to a year...and there's no reason to be intimidated [as a beginner], because everyone's been there," says Halle.

For a combat sport, kickboxing is unusually equally split between men and women, and Jodie and the Conlon-Oates agree that it's a positive environment (though Halle and Lucy say they wish there were more girls at an elite level). According to Kickboxing Ireland, 48% of their membership is women, and with over 70 clubs around the country there's plenty of opportunities to join for fun, fitness, or to learn self-defence. There are also many non-combat options available.

"Don't be scared, especially as a woman," says Jodie. "Don't think that it's a manly sport—when you walk into my club, it's never dominated by men, and the men are nice! Put yourself out there, because life's too short!"

Find a kickboxing club near you on Kickboxing Ireland's website here.

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