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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019

For Dublin's Lynn Harvey, the European title is no longer just a picture on her bedroom wall

‘The Hunter’ says she doesn’t even really follow boxing, but she will follow her boxing dream as far as the Spanish city of Cadiz next month.

The Kilbarrack woman will fight for the EBU European strawweight title on 27 February.
The Kilbarrack woman will fight for the EBU European strawweight title on 27 February.
Image: Jerry McCarthy, KO Media

LYNN HARVEY HAS what’s called a vision board on her bedroom wall. It’s a collage of images and affirmations related to goals of both the personal and professional variety.

Her short-term personal goals have been ticked off.

The centrepiece to Harvey’s vision board, though, is professional and more medium-term. It has adorned her wall since the Christmas of 2017, only three months after she retired from boxing citing private factors as well as her frustration with all the malarkey that comes with prizefighting; the waiting, the self-publicising, the incessant deluge of spoof.

It was also her screensaver for over a year, the first thing she saw every time she unlocked her phone over the course of what she always knew would be no more than a lengthy hiatus despite those aforementioned frustrations.

It’s big and it’s blue, and to Harvey it’s beautiful. And now, the EBU European title belt — the exact prestigious strap for which ‘The Hunter’ will scrap against Catalina Diaz in Spain next month — is no longer some kind of holy grail.

In fact, she’s been staring at it for so long, she nearly feels it already belongs to her.

euro-belt Lynn Harvey will fulfill a dream in challenging for the EBU European title in Cadiz, Spain next month.

“Brainwashing myself,” laughs Harvey, 37, who is elated to have landed a fight for the continental belt in what will be only the second outing of her ring return.

“My manager, Jay [Byrne], said to me a couple of days ago that this fight might be happening but between boxing and my luck as well, we definitely didn’t set our hopes too high.

“Until it was actually confirmed, we were still a bit unsure; the last time there was talk of me fighting some girl for a big title, and I thought that was going to happen for a couple of days, but then it didn’t. So with this one, we were still kind of thinking, ‘Let’s just see what happens’ until it was completely over the line.

“I’m absolutely delighted, now, like. It’s just a great opportunity.

“And it’s the fact that it’s winnable, as well,” Harvey adds.

It’s not just, ‘Aw, I’m getting a chance to fight for the European title’. There’s actually a huge chance of me winning this fight and winning this title — one, because I’m strong-minded, and two, because me and my opponent have had the same number of fights, and it’s not like one of us has a huge advantage over the other; it’s not like I’m going in to fight someone who has loads of fights, loads of knockouts, where you’re taking a few steps up in order to fight for a title.

“Now, in saying that — do I think I have it won? No. I think I will win, but I’m not going in there thinking the job is done by any means.

DS5_4720 'The Hunter' trains ahead of her European title shot in Cadiz next month. Source: Jerry McCarthy, KO Media

“I’ll always prepare for an opponent to be a little bit better, a little bit tougher than you might expect them to be. There’s nothing worse than going in there and getting a shock — and that’s happened me before. It takes a few rounds to get over that shock of an opponent exceeding your expectations in terms of how good they are, or feeling or seeing something in them that you weren’t expecting. That can knock your focus and it can be a long way back.

“But this is an even playing field on paper as far as I’m concerned. And even if neither of us necessarily have the edge, I would always back myself over somebody else — every time. I just know that when it comes down to it, I’ll pull it out of the bag, like.

“Even if her CV did look a little bit shinier than mine, I’d still put money on myself, d’you know what I mean?”

Five years ago, when fighting as an amateur out of Crumlin Boxing Club, Harvey put that money where her mouth was.

She was living in her family home at the time and recalls how, long before her Irish Senior Elite final, she had decorated her laptop’s desktop background with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association crest and the words ‘Lynn Harvey, National Senior champion 2014′ among other such affirmations.

untitled-369-390x285 The big-punching Harvey has a professional record of 5-1 with four stoppage wins.

Due to face another Lynn — this one a McEnery-O’Shea from St Paul’s BC — in the decider at light-flyweight (48kg) that March, Harvey strolled into a local Paddy Power to place a bet on herself.

“It turned out they weren’t taking bets on the women’s Senior finals — they were only taking bets on the men,” she laughs.

The girl at the till was mortified. She was like, ‘Who did you want to bet on?’ And I was like, ‘Meself!’

It was a pity she couldn’t, because Harvey would have pocketed a fair few bob to complement her first title in the top echelon of Ireland’s unpaid ranks.

“The girl that I beat [McEnery-O'Shea] was a fabulous boxer, a far classier boxer than me,” she says matter-of-factly. “I had no right to think I’d win it, and nobody else thought I’d win it; I was a complete outsider.

“But that’s how convinced I was that I was going to win it — I wanted to literally back myself in the bookies.

Look, I don’t know if brainwashing yourself and visualisation actually works, but for me it definitely helps. It’s just so strange that I had the EBU belt on my vision board, on my phone, and now I’m fighting for it. It’s really, really tough to get a shot at that belt, and now I’m going for it in a winnable fight. It’s very, very strange.

DS5_4893 Harvey, 37, has returned from retirement and landed a European title shot within two fights. Source: Jerry McCarthy, KO Media

At the end of February, Harvey [5-1, 4KOs] will ship up to the ancient Andalucian port city of Cadiz to square off with home fighter Diaz [4-2, 0KOs], a year her senior at 38, for her chance to become Ireland’s first ever female professional European champion.

There is every chance that, upon her return to Dublin, she’ll need to add a different-coloured belt to her bedroom wall; if Harvey beats the Spaniard she’ll earn a spot on the WBC’s rankings and be propelled into the world-title mix.

The WBC world champion at 105 pounds, Tina Rupprecht, has fought only three more times than Harvey as a professional (9-0, 3KOs), and the comparative lack of depth in women’s pro boxing dictates that the reigning EBU European beltholder in most divisions is only ever but a phonecall away from challenging for world honours. Harvey herself was invited to face Diaz on account of the lack of willing or able contenders on a continental level.

But if ‘The Hunter’ is to ambush Rupprecht or another world champion, it likely won’t happen immediately on the back of prospective blue-belt success. There are no airs or graces about the hard-hitting Dub, who feels she still has a way to go before taking on the very best in her business.

“I’ll see how I feel after the fight with the vision board,” Harvey chuckles. “I’ll have to change it anyway because we’re in a new year and everything else on the board is done!

If I have that European belt, I’ll have to make a new goal. But I’m not even thinking beyond this fight for now. Jay [Byrne] told me of a few ideas he has for afterwards and I was just like, ‘Jay… Don’t even talk to me about anything beyond this fight.’ I don’t even care about anything beyond it at the moment.

“You kind of have to be careful as well because I’m not that long at boxing,” Harvey adds.

Like, if I do win this fight, I’ll need to be very careful — and Jay will be very careful with me — because I’m not at world level yet. I’m not one of these people that has delusions about themselves; I’d need to make sure I’m where I need to be before I’d take certain fights. I’m not just going to take a big fight just because I’m eligible for it as European champion and then get the head punched off me.

“Honestly, I don’t even follow boxing. I don’t even know what way it goes, to be honest with you. If I win this, do I have to defend it or what’s the story? I don’t even know. But I wouldn’t like to be thrown straight in over my head.

“My feet are firmly on the ground, but one thing I do believe is that I haven’t even nearly reached my potential yet. I’m still making tons of mistakes. A lot of that would have to be adjusted and fixed before I’d even think about stepping in with somebody at world level. I’m still improving, still learning.”

DS5_4713 Victory next month would put Harvey in the world-title frame, but she maintains she's not yet at 'world level'. Source: Jerry McCarthy, KO Media

Harvey has also learned to pick her battles outside of the squared jungle.

Her 11-year-old son, Tyler, has the rare distinction of being able to tell classmates that his Ma’ would hockey their Da’s without fear of any kind of credible retort, although by all accounts he’s well able to look after himself.

Tyler is his mother’s biggest supporter, watching each of her fights from ringside, but that’s not to suggest he’s blown away by her badassery, nor is he overwhelmed by the prospect of the European title belt taking pride of fireplace in their home.

“The child is unflappable,” Harvey gushes.

He was there the night that I lost the fight [against Mary Romero in 2016] and he’d never seen me lose a fight before. That would have been tough on him — it was upsetting for a lot of adults watching! It was a very, very tough fight and I took some seriously heavy shots that would have stopped 99.9% of women my size.

“He had his little friends there and all, that time. And the state my face was in the next day… I was nearly unrecognisable. And it [the swelling/bruises] didn’t go down for about a week, so that was a lot for him to deal with. But I have to say, he was cool as a cucumber.

“He loves that I fight, he loves coming to the fights,” Harvey says, “but he still doesn’t think I’m cool, like.

Yesterday I said to him: ‘Tyler, if I win this belt, if I come home with this belt, then can I be cool?’ And he goes: ‘Mum, I’m sorry, but even the fact that you’re saying all of this means you’re not cool.’

“He agreed to leave me be cool for half an hour”, she laughs, “so I’ll get half an hour if I win the fight and then I’ll go back to being cringey again!

“But no, he’s a solid kid. He’s proud of me, and we’re a good team.”

DS5_4851 Harvey's son, Tyler, says he'll allow her to be 'cool' for half an hour if she wins the famous blue belt.

The consummate team player, Tyler might have to forego the few days off school next month when his mother flies to Spain for her 10-round dance with Diaz.

Harvey explains:

As a parent, no matter what you’re doing — you could even be in the ring — but you’d still just be constantly aware of your kid; where they are, what they’re doing, what they’re eating, ‘did you brush your teeth?’

“I just don’t need to be thinking of anything like that in or around the fight — it’d be too much of a distraction. I just want to go over on my own and do what I have to do to get the job done.”

No concrete decisions have yet been made — Tyler’s aunt may yet bring him over with her — but as of now, it’s likely that he will have to keep an ear on proceedings from home.

So too will many of Harvey’s family and friends for whom a short-notice spring break to Andalucia isn’t feasible for all kinds of reasons.

But ‘The Hunter’ will carry with her to the ring their support nonetheless. It’s already nearly palpable.

“I don’t know if people realise that it does make a difference, hearing people wish you well, or people writing to you on Facebook or whatever. It does something for a fighter when they feel the momentum of having the people behind them, that support. It does something to you mentally that helps you in a fight.

If you see a fighter or a sportsperson has gotten a big fight or some good news or a big opportunity, don’t just think, ‘Ah, fair play.’ Say it to them! It’ll take you two seconds to say it or to write it, and it really, really does make a difference that you’re showing support. Even commenting on a Facebook post or sharing it and saying, ‘Ah, well done’ — any kind of encouragement for an athlete is brilliant.

“The amount of people messaging me and wishing me well and sharing my post about the fight… It’s lovely. It really is lovely, like.”

Her Facebook wall will be even busier than her bedroom wall if she can make her way home with that royal blue strap slung over her shoulder.

- Originally published at 15.00 

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