It was never going to be simple with Katie Taylor and Croke Park. Not because of the money, not because of security. And not even because pro boxing is a con trick anyway, a theatre of deceit and doublespeak long before anyone steps through the ropes. That’s all just the usual nonsense, baked in when the fights come to town.
No, this is different stuff. This is about trying to arrange a marriage between two of the most sacred institutions in the State. Irish people love Katie Taylor. Irish people love Croke Park. Any process that tries to pit them together for a moneymaking venture was always going to bring opposing sides into fractious territory at some stage. Now that it has happened: kablamo. Stand well back, everybody.
You get the sense that Eddie Hearn isn’t totally aware of what he’s chortling his way into here. He might well think he’s seen some stuff down the years but he can’t know the mania that takes hold when Ireland decides to lose its collective shit over something. If he did, he’d have known better than to put Katie Taylor and Croke Park on opposite sides of a row.
Boxing likes to play up its feral side but actually it’s no less mannered and corralled than any other big-time sport. The reality is there’s too much money involved for it to really sail that boat into the heart of darkness. Emotion is good and useful, right up until the point where it becomes inefficient.
Pro sport hates inefficiency. Pro sport is lawyers and suits and all the Fiachras and Fionnulas on the advertising floors. It’s market share and pay-per-view and if you want to throw in some TikTok hits to give the whole thing a sheen of wildness, knock yourself out. It’s a rocket ship on its way to Mars, just nicely contained within a workaday slice of Saturday night TV.
Making Irish people choose between Katie Taylor and Croke Park? That’s dynamite on a garage forecourt. There’s no telling how that plays out, only that it won’t end well. What started life as a straightforward negotiation between a boxing promoter and a sports stadium is liable to morph into anything now. We know this in our bones.
Does Eddie Hearn know it? Not if his BBC interview yesterday is anything to go by. In it, he professed surprise that this was a big deal at all. “It’s national news!” he told boxing commentator Steve Bunce with a bemused laugh. “Petitions to the government!” spluttered Bunce, clearly just as tickled by the whole situation.
Lads. Come here till we tell you. If you think getting on the Six-One is a sign that this thing is taking on a life of its own, there’s a little radio show called Liveline you might consider checking out. If you dare. As for petitions to the government, it made the floor of the Dáil on Thursday. Jesus wept.
Katie and Croker. You would find it hard to combine two strands of Irish life that are more readily guaranteed to engage the hearts of the populace. The brains, of course, are another matter entirely. This is no place for cold, rational thinking. If it was, Eddie Hearn would have been told to kindly pay the bill or sling his hook and there wouldn’t have been another word about it.
And on it goes, this waltz of nonsense. Ryan Tubridy is involved now, it seems.
But because it’s Katie Taylor, it’s different. There are layers and nuances to every angle of it. On the face of it, the yen to have her fight in Croke Park can be explained by wanting the best for her. She’s 37 in a few months. There might be another year or two in her career but nobody wants there to be four or five. People want to get her into Croke Park, to give her a night she’ll never forget, to pay homage to a uniquely miraculous career.
Dig a little deeper though and there’s probably a bit of guilt thrown in there too. Taylor is the same person now as she’s always been, forging her path, pushing back against notions of what’s possible. But she has never fought in front of more than a few hundred people in Ireland. She was ignored and isolated as she made her way through her early career, even as she was winning gold medals by the truckload.
So maybe we can make it all up to her by going to a big fight in Croke Park? Never underestimate Irish people’s love of a grand gesture, after all. Or of a bit of reflected glory, for that matter. Look at us, with our dedication to a female sporting hero. Aren’t we great? Tell us we’re great.
There was a bang of that around the place this week. Three Sinn Féin TDs came out on Thursday and started windmilling punches down on the government for not making the fight happen. Chris Andrews (Dublin Bay South), John Brady (Wicklow) and Darren O’Rourke (Meath East) all peddled the same line. Katie Taylor is an icon, a role model, a legend. The government should move heaven and earth to give her the Croke Park fight she deserves.
Pure, distilled nonsense, of course. The government shouldn’t be anywhere near this. Fix the housing crisis. Fix the health system. Fix the asylum disaster. Fix something – anything – before you fix Eddie Hearn’s imagined cash flow issues. God knows there is no shortage of stuff to nail this cruel, ramshackle government on. A professional boxing match? Come on.
Especially one in that other great Irish icon, Croke Park. As soon as word came out that the sticking point was cold hard cash, people were always going to get that bit more protective of it. Everybody loves Katie. But her mate Eddie would want to wind his neck in. He can’t be coming in here with his global TV contracts and his million dollar purses and meanwhile start playing the poor mouth when it comes to renting the hall. This is Croke Park we’re talking about.
Croke Park is historic and symbolic and deeply, instinctively ours. To lowball it is to lowball us. Also, if anybody’s going to give out about the prices charged by the GAA, we’re well fit to do it ourselves. They’re charging €18 into league hurling this weekend, Eddie. League hurling! You’re getting off lightly, pal.
[ Malachy Clerkin: The National Football League is the GAA’s best and most abused competition ]
And on it goes, this waltz of nonsense. Ryan Tubridy is involved now, it seems. He told The Mirror yesterday that the GAA should “rethink the rent for one night only” on their “overpriced hall”. We’re surely no more than mere hours from somebody getting Garth Brooks on the line for his input. Is Christy Burke still on the go?
Walk easy, Eddie. You can’t possibly conceive of the madness we have in store for you.
[ The ballad of Brett Maher, the NFL kicker who became a walking punchline ]