Lurgan girl and Ireland team captain Cassie Henderson (13) had ‘baptism of fire’ at European Championships in Turkey

Cassie Henderson (13), who took up boxing just eight months ago, had a ‘baptism of fire’ at the European Championships in Turkey at the weekend.

The Lurgan girl captained Ireland at the Euros, but sadly lost her fight to an English rival two years her senior.

In what her boxing coach Bernard McComiskey described as a ‘fairytale’ the St Ronan’s College teenager boxed her first fight in the Euros on Saturday last fighting against the English champion.

Her father Ryan Henderson said: “We are all still really proud of Cassie. She has come so far and it has been an unbelievable experience for her. She had the toughest of people to draw against and she lost but she is still buzzing.

“She is still out in Turkey sparring,” said Ryan. “She said for the first time she feels like a boxer. It was a baptism of fire but a great experience.”

Ryan said everyone was behind her. “Lurgan people all got behind her. There was genuine support. It was fantastic.”

Cassie won her first All-Ireland title in June. She claimed the 60kg title at the National Junior Cadet Championships in Dublin.

She is a talented sportswoman and a chip of the old block, following in her father’s footsteps playing for Co Armagh and Lurgan GAA club Clann Eireann. She also plays for Belfast soccer team Glentoran.

Lurgan girl Cassie Henderson, aged 13, who eight months after starting to box at Gilford Amateur Boxing Club, won the won the 60kg title at the National Junior Cadet Championship in Dublin and is currently in Turkey captaining Team Ireland in the European Championships. She also plays Gaelic for Clann Eireann and soccer for Glentoran.

Her father is also a former Linfield player.

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Gilford Amateur Boxing Club's Bernard McComiskey with Lurgan girl Cassie Henderson and trainer Gavin Duffy. Cassie (13) won the won the 60kg title at the National Junior Cadet Championship in Dublin and is currently in Turkey captaining Team Ireland in the European Championships. She also plays Gaelic for Clann Eireann and soccer for Glentoran.

How it all began

Cassie’s dad revealed he had taken her to Gilford Amateur Boxing Club just before Christmas in a bid to improve her fitness and that was her first foray into the boxing world.

He explained: “She is big into Gaelic football. Boxing is the kind of sport that would sort of compliment Gaelic really well in terms of core work and building resilience. So I just dropped her out. And then is just took off from there.”

He said the club seemed glad to see someone like Cassie come through the door and from there it ‘snowballed’.

“It is such a good environment out in Gilford that she just kind of took off. She thrives in that environment. She just loved it.”

Ryan said when he was young he had a stint at the boxing at Clann Eireann Youth Club which hosted a boxing club. “I would have helped train her a bit on the pads, just the kind of things you do with Gaelic, boxing always intertwines a wee bit and most Gaelic players would have a stint at boxing at some stage.”

Ryan explained that as soon as she went out to Gilford Amateur Boxing Club Bernard McComiskey, who runs the club, took her on the pads. “I think he was happy with what he had seen and phoned me that night to say they were happy with her and to make sure and bring her back out.

“It wasn’t something we planned, more something we kind of fell into,” said Ryan.

Cassie’s first title in boxing and the European Championships

In June Cassie won the 60kg title at the National Junior Cadet Championship in Dublin. Because of this, she was able to go to the High Performance Unit at the National Stadium in Dublin. Ryan took her to Dublin every Sunday for training. She was chosen to join the Ireland boxing squad heading to Turkey for the European Championships and last week before she left she was made captain of the team.

“It’s a really, really great honour,” said Ryan. “She did the hard way too, she hasn’t had that many easy fights.”

Ryan explained that Cassie is away with the team in Turkey for 16 days. “They go as part of Team Ireland and they are training twice a day. Lights are out every night at 10pm. If she needs me I could get a flight out but spoke to her yesterday and she is loving it.”

Ryan said it was a real thrill for the teenager. “It’s unbelievable. We never thought she would end up so far. It all snowballed a wee bit. One minute I am bringing her out to help her training with the Gaelic and the next minute she is in Turkey for 16 days on her own fighting for a European title.”

‘It’s fairy tale stuff to have someone like Cassie walk into the gym’

Gilford coach Bernard McComiskey said: “She is unbelievable. She came over with a friend to improve her fitness and the very first night she came in I took her on the pads. We all stood and looked and went ‘Holy God’. She a freak of nature. Raw talent. She has the strength and power and her boxing skills are improving all the time. It is fairy tale stuff to have someone like that walk into the gym.

“It’s a bit of a roller coaster. She started during Covid and had a few trips to matches and then in June won that title.”

Bernard added: “She is focused, has grit and determination. She beat the current Irish champion in her first contest. The ones in Dublin seen it straight away and that’s why she got on the team. And she is not afraid to get hit.”

She also has had support from professional boxer Michael Conlan and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Kristina McCafferty-O’Hara.