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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 5 December 2020

16 for 16: The most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years - Katie Taylor

The gold medallist from London 2012 found success at any sport she tried.

KATIE TAYLOR IS the final subject in a series of 16 articles focusing on the most important Irish sportspeople of the last 100 years. The list includes GAA players, Olympians, boxers, golfers and more who dared to dream.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I was definitely a tomboy growing up. You could always find my brother Peter and I out on the streets kicking a ball around with the lads in the area. We played on a patch of green directly in front of our house, which is known to everyone in the estate as ‘the bank’. There weren’t any real facilities there, but we needed only a ball and a couple of jumpers for goals. We would play for hours, sometimes until it got dark and we could no longer see the football.”

- Katie Taylor, My Olympic Dream

Katie Taylor was born in Bray, Co. Wicklow on 2 July 1986, the youngest of four children to Peter and Bridget. The year Taylor was born, Peter — originally from Leeds — won the Irish senior light heavyweight title.

However, Taylor’s sporting prowess was not limited to just the sweet science.

As a child she would often have to play a Gaelic football match for her school (St. Fergal’s National School), a soccer match for her club (St. Fergal’s FC) and then round out her day with a sparring session in Bray Boxing Club’s gym.

Indeed, on the day of her first ever boxing exhibition bout, Taylor took to the ring just an hour after winning a cross-country race for her athletics club (Bray Runners).

While her interest in, and aptitude for, boxing grew from the age of 10, it didn’t come at the expense of making a name for herself across a range of sports. At the age of 14, she was capped for the Ireland U17 soccer team and — between 2006 and 2009 — made 11 senior appearances, scoring twice.

Katie Taylor Taylor in action for the Irish senior team. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

One thing Taylor’s soccer career had in common with her boxing one was that she very often competed with, and got the better of, boys. In fact, she often credits training alongside the male boxers in Bray with setting her on course for success.

She was, however, hampered by the fact that Bray didn’t have a dedicated boxing club — she started training in Enniskerry — but when her father took up training full-time once his boxing career came to an end, they were able to set up shop in a large corrugated iron hut across from their estate. It was known, affectionately, as the ‘Tin Can’.

Eventually, in 1996, the future Olympian would find a permanent home in an old boat shed near the harbour that wouldn’t even have full toilet facilities until 2012.

On 31 October 2001, at the age of 15, she fought in the first officially-sanctioned women’s boxing match in Ireland when she defeated Belfast’s Alanna Audley 23-12.

In 2004, Taylor marked herself as the dominant force in women’s boxing when she beat 60kg world champion Jennifer Ogg of Canada at a tournament in Rome but her first major tournament would not come until the following year.

Now 18 years old, Taylor claimed European 60kg gold with a third round stoppage of Eva Wallström of Finland and retained her title by beating Tatiana Chalaya in Warsaw in 2006.

That same year, Taylor won her first World Championship gold with victory over Argentina’s Erica Farias in India.

Katie Taylor arrives home Taylor with her first World Championships gold medal. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Her importance to her sport was highlighted in 2007 when Taylor was invited to box in an exhibition bout at the Men’s World Championships in the USA.

In front of an audience of top-ranking International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials there to ascertain whether or not women’s boxing deserved a place in the Games, Taylor stopped Canada’s three-time Pan-American champion Katie Dunn inside the first round.

Two years later, thanks in part to the Bray woman, the IOC announced that women’s boxing would be included in the Olympics for the first time at London 2012.

Between 2009 and 2012, Taylor prepared for her Olympic debut by conquering all before her. In doing so she claimed no fewer than three EU Championships, two European Championships and a further two World Championships.

The one bump in the road came with a loss to Bulgarian Denitsa Eliseeva in 2011.

Taylor’s wait for an Olympic debut was stretched when she was given a first round bye but she secured Ireland’s first ever women’s boxing medal on 6 August when she dominated Team GB’s Natasha Jones to secure at least a bronze.

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

Taylor was equally impressive two days later in her semi-final win over Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva and, though she was made to sweat a little in the decider, justified her favouritism with a 10-8 victory over Russia’s Sofya Ochigava.

Though Taylor missed out on a medal at Rio 2016, the role she has played in inspiring young Irish athletes, particularly women, cannot be underestimated.

A five-time world champion, her own website declares her 60kg gold in London the realisation of an impossible dream.

But, thanks in part to Taylor, it’s a dream that many more can now aspire to. 

Over the past three months, in association with Allianz Insurance, we have been profiling the 16 most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years. 

Allianz Insurance — The world belongs to those who dare.

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