Belfast Telegraph

Commonwealth Games joy for Lisa Kearney as she lands bronze to overcome semis shock

By Steven Beacom

The mark of a champion is how they can come back from bitter disappointment. Normally sports stars have days, weeks or months to recover after a tough defeat before competing again. Lisa Kearney only had a few hours.

It was all she needed.

In Glasgow last night the 25-year-old judoka from west Belfast produced a stunning performance to win Team Northern Ireland's first medal of the Commonwealth Games, claiming a bronze in the -52kg women's judo category.

To huge cheers inside a packed hall in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Kearney forced Canadian opponent Audree Francis-Methot into submission with 32 seconds of the fight remaining.

It was a glorious moment for Northern Ireland. And a hugely rewarding one for Lisa.

"I'm delighted to win the first medal for Northern Ireland at this year's Commonwealth Games. Hopefully it will give my judo team-mates and everyone in the team a boost. It's really special to get the first one and to finally get my first Championship medal is a great feeling," said a joyful Lisa, who took up the sport aged eight because her friends were doing it.

Earlier Kearney had controversially lost out to training partner Kelly Edwards in the semi-finals, when many watching couldn't understand the decision to award the English lady the victory.

The Kearney camp did not make any public complaints, but coach Ciaran Ward, an inspirational figure to Lisa, and other experts in the sport were left baffled when the Ulster woman, with a final in sight, was cruelly denied.

Kearney, who studies psychology at University in Scotland, was diplomatic when asked about it.

"I was really, really disappointed to lose that fight. I lost very narrowly in extra time but I feel like there were things that didn't go my way. Some things you just can't control. Luck definitely wasn't on my side," she said.

Lisa, who had defeated South African Sinothanda Mva in the quarter-finals, didn't need any fortune in the bronze medal match, taking control straight away. The Canadian had no chance against the determination and desire of Kearney.

Explaining how she clinched victory, Lisa stated: "I won by an armlock. In judo if you make your opponent submit by either strangle or armlock, the fight is over straight away. That was my second attempt at an armlock in the fight. She had to submit and that's how I won."

And what a win – Northern Ireland's first judo medal since Lisa Bradley, in the hall last night, secured silver in Manchester 12 years ago.

"This is the first time that judo has been in the Commonwealth Games since then so I'm delighted to take another medal for judo in Northern Ireland," said Lisa. "Lisa Bradley was my training partner and mentor when I was a kid. She put in a lot of work when I was young and got no thanks for it.

"There was no glamour at all, but she believed in me. She has always been someone I looked up to and I'm delighted to follow in her footsteps. It's great she was here when I got my medal."

Bradley was beaming with pride as much as Lisa. The 2002 Commonwealth medallist said: "Lisa is a great girl who has worked very hard and deserves all her success. It's also fantastic for Team Northern Ireland to win a medal on day one of competition. That will give give everyone on the team a big lift."

Kearney's family were also full of smiles. Mum Sheila, dad Mark and older brother Christopher were in the hall, along with aunties, uncles and cousins plus friends from the Yamakwai Judo club in Belfast and pals from Scotland.

"It's special for me to win the medal here in Glasgow because I've been studying over in Scotland for years – it's like my second home," said the Sports Institute Northern Ireland athlete.

Last night Lisa enjoyed a meal with her nearest and dearest, including mum, who told me afterwards that she can't watch all of her daughter's fights, though she was delighted to be there to see her girl win a medal.

On the celebration front, Lisa added: "I'll not be going mental because I have the World Championships next month so I'll have a few days relaxing, watching some sport and then I'll build up for the World Championships.

"Olympic qualification for Rio 2018 has already started so I have plenty of qualification events through to the end of the year. I'm going to be busy.

"The Commonwealth Games may not be on the same scale as the Olympics but it is still a big event and a stepping stone for me. It's a great boost for my confidence to get a medal. I'm really pleased with how I fought."

So you should be Lisa, Northern Ireland's latest sporting heroine.

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