A nervous silence turns into one almighty roar as Bray hails champion
All the hope of a community was distilled into one moment of pure joy
ALL GOOD things come to those who wait and wait and wait. It could have only been a few short minutes between the bell and the announcement of the result but it felt like an eternity.
The crowd that gathered on the playing pitches beside the Shoreline leisure complex in the shadow of Bray Head to watch Katie Taylor’s Olympic lightweight final fight fell silent for the first time.
Between 8,000 and 10,000 packed into the field in front of the leisure centre in Taylor’s home patch of Ballywaltrim.
The centre was opened just four years ago by the woman herself. Taylor’s gold medal fight brought families out in their hundreds. The sunshine, the flag vendors and the ice creams made it feel a little like a summer fete but there was an unmistakable air of tension around that had not been there in previous fights.
The stakes were higher and so was the calibre of opponent. Unbelievably, and with cruel timing, the power went out in the surrounding housing estates just before the fight, swelling the crowd further. The numbers were double those that turned out on Bray Main Street for the semi-final on Wednesday.
They cheered vociferously when commentator Jimmy Magee concluded the fight by saying that “surely the gold medal is on its way back to Bray”. They cheered more when Peter Taylor gave his daughter a victory hug.
The gold medal was coming home, but what’s this? As we waited for the result, the Russian competitor raised her hand as if she had won after an incredibly tense fight.
One woman wound her little Tricolour around the flagpole until it was taut, crossed herself and looked down at the ground in nervous anticipation. “I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I think I bit most of my nails off,” said another woman.
The mayor of Bray, Cllr Mick Glynn, paced the grass embankment like a panther. “You could hear a pin dropped. Only for Jimmy Magee was so optimistic, the crowd would nearly have been in tears,” he said. “I’ve seen her fighting 20 times and I’ve never seen it this close before.”
Not a single person spoke. Could it all be in vain, all this fervent expectation, all this delirium of the brave? Would there be the dreaded count back?
The relief when the result was announced was beyond compare. All the hope and expectation of a community distilled into a single moment of pure joy. Katie Taylor – Olympic champion.
Right on queue came the confetti pumped out in great big multicoloured arcs with a soundtrack of Put ‘Em Under Pressure. Bray Town Council, which deserves credit for the manner in which it organised the public screening of her fights this week, had thought of everything.
This was no coronation in comparison with previous fights. There was a collective gasp when Taylor lost the second round, albeit by a single point. Tension dissipated when she won the third one handsomely but the fourth was too close for comfort.
People came from all over the country to be in Bray. It was, as John Nolan from Carlow said, one for future Reeling in the Years programmes when you can point to yourself and say “I was there”.
A few thousand stayed on for the medal ceremony afterwards.
Bray is planning a homecoming for their heroine on Monday after the national celebration involving all the Irish Olympians, which is due for Dublin city centre on Monday afternoon.
The plan, subject to the approval of the Taylor family, is for Katie and her entourage to proceed in an open-top bus through the town on Monday evening at 7pm, ending with a big celebration along the seafront until 10pm, where there will be celebrity guests and fireworks.
There is a joke going around that Bray Head will be renamed Taylor’s Hill in her honour but there will surely be one of the yet unnamed streets in the town named after her and a statue.
The party is only getting started.