Lisa Kearney was the toast of Northern Ireland on Friday morning after winning a superb bronze medal on the first day of competition at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Thbursday.
The 25 year-old from Belfast looked completely in control of her play-off winning by ippon over the Canadian National champion Audree Francis-Methot with 32 seconds remaining of the contest.
“I’m delighted to win the medal and the first in judo since Lisa Bradley twelve years ago and so happy to win the first for Northern Ireland at these Games. Hopefully this will give my judo team mates a wee boost and the rest of Team Northern Ireland. It’s very special to get the first one,” said Kearney afterwards.
She had started her campaign with a comfortable victory over Sinothando Mva from South Africa in the semi-finals when a strangle hold forced a submission after only 1:43 on the fight.
But there would be controversy in the semi-finals when she lost an absorbing contest with Kelly Edwards from England.
The two girls train together and their familiarity showed in a tight affair and when it went to extra-time it was Edwards who got the golden score with a shido or penalty given against Kearney.
“I always knew this was going to be a hard fight because we knew each other so well. I was really, really disappointed to lose in extra time and I feel like there were things in the fight that just didn’t go my way and there are some things you can’t control and luck wasn’t on my side.”
However Kearney gathered herself for the bronze medal fight against Methot and from the start she looked aggressive and was always on the front foot.
The pressure forced the Canadian to take two penalties and although Kearney gave one of those back, in the end her tenacity paid off.
“I had her in an arm lock, it was my second attempt, and she had to submit. I think you have to believe in yourself or there’s no point in even going out on the mat. When you fight the top people no one knows who is going to win so you have to believe you can do it and although I was nervous I was feeling confident.
After the disappointment of losing in the semi-final I was so proud of myself to come back and get a medal.”
Northern Ireland’s first Commonwealth medalist in judo was in the arena to see Kearney follow in her footsteps.
It’s twelve years since Lisa Bradley clinched a silver medal in Manchester and there were hugs and tears following the fight between the past and present medalists.
Kearney added, “Lisa was my training partner and mentor when I was quite young. She believed in me and put in a lot of work with me when I was a kid and there was nothing in it for her. I still look up to her and I’m delighted she was here to see it.”
Kearney has spent the last six years studying and training in Edinburgh so this was also a medal won in her second home.
“This is a stepping stone in my career and to get it here in Glasgow, in Scotland where I’ve been living for so long is very special. It’s my first championship medal and to get it here is amazing and to have all the support was a real boost.”
Kearney will enjoy the success and plans to relax and cheer on her team mates over the next week but she has more fish to fry in the near future.
“I won’t be going mental because I have the world championships in a few weeks so I’m going to enjoy it and watch some sport but the qualification for the Olympics in Rio has already started and there are plenty of events with points available to compete at so the next couple of years I’m going to be busy.”