Katie Taylor is probably appreciated as much outside her native country as she is in Ireland
Katie Taylor’s boxing career has now lasted longer than Stephen Cluxton’s celebrated tenure as Dublin goalkeeper.
It was Hallowe’en night 2001 when a then 15-year-old Taylor had her first official bout in the National Stadium.
Earlier in 2001 Cluxton made his championship debut for Dublin in the Leinster championship against Longford. He bowed out after captaining Dublin to a seventh All-Ireland title win in 2020. Both were pioneering figures.
Cluxton changed the concept of goalkeeping in Gaelic football. Taylor has changed the course of women’s boxing, initially during her amateur career when she won the gold medal at the London Olympics and also now as a professional fighter.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, she will top the bill at the mecca of boxing Madison Square Garden, becoming the first ever female boxer along with her opponent Amanda Serrano to do so.
And she will be the first Irish boxer to be top of the bill at the MSG since the legendary Hillsborough born World champion Jimmy McLarnin did it in his final bout as a professional in 1936.
Normally this column is devoted to GAA matters but today it is appropriate to reflect on the contribution which Katie Taylor has made to 21st century Irish sport.
One of the ironies of Taylor’s career is that she is probably appreciated as much outside her native country as she is in Ireland.
This is not entirely the fault of the Irish people who have consistently voted her the country’s most admired sports star. But how many people have seen her fight?
Apart from one week every four years nobody in Ireland cares too much about boxing.
Even though boxing it is by far Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport, in terms of the coverage it receives boxing isn’t in the same parish as any of the major sports like GAA, rugby and soccer.
It is different during the Olympics – the whole country is on the scent of gold medal success and invariably it is the boxers who do the business. Then everybody forgets about the sport until the next Games comes around.
Even though Katie Taylor was the dominant figure in the lightweight division long before the 2012 Olympics Games, most Irish people never witnessed her fighting on TV until the London Games.
Things become even more complicated when she turned professional.
Some of us are old enough to remember the days when all the big fights were available free to watch on either BBC or RTE. We all fondly remember the famous night in 1986 when an astonishing 20m million tuned in to watch Barry McGuigan win the World title in Loftus Road in London.
Nowadays the top male fighters earn mega money compared to their predecessors, due to the various forms of pay per view. But as a sport boxing has lost out because only boxing aficionados are prepared to pay money to watch fights.
Worse still in the case of Taylor is that she has been unable to fight professional in Ireland initially due to the threat of gangland violence arising out of a fatal shooting at a professional boxing weigh-in in Dublin in 2016 and more recently due to links between the sport and Daniel Kinahan.
So, like two of Ireland’s great literary figures of the last century Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, Taylor has not just done her best work abroad as a professional, she has done it all.
Like other Irish sporting legends stretching back to the days of Eddie Macken, and including Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Eamon Coghlan, John Treacy, Catherina McKiernan, and Sonia O’Sullivan we probably won’t fully appreciate the impact Katie Taylor has made until she retires.
At 35, she is probably past her peak. It is in the lap of the Gods whether he can hold off the challenge of Serrano in the early hours of next Sunday morning. For the first time in her twenty-one professional fights Taylor is not the favourite.
It will cost €7.99 and a disrupted night’s sleep to watch the fight on the DAZN. Believe me, it will be money well spent and worth the lost sleep
It could be a sad night, or it could be a night when one of Ireland’s greatest ever sports personalities embellishes her bulging CV even more.
Either way it won’t be dull.
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