Katie Taylor and Michael O’Reilly strike gold in Baku

Golden day for Ireland as Taylor sees off Mossely before O’Reilly stuns the Crystal Hall

Katie Taylor dominanted Estelle Mossley to win Ireland’s first gold medal of the European Games. Photograph: Inpho

Katie Taylor dominanted Estelle Mossley to win Ireland’s first gold medal of the European Games. Photograph: Inpho

 

There are no more words of praise for Katie Taylor. Only more acknowledgement, more respect, and yet more gold medals. This time, a first European Games gold medal for the Bray fighter, to go with the 17 gold medals she’s already won.

Only now we must find words of praise too for Michael O’Reilly, his first gold medal at any level coming inside Baku’s Crystal Hall not long after Taylor’s. Because this time, the Portlaoise fighter surpassed everyone’s expectations, possibly even his own, by beating Azerbaijani’s middleweight Xaybula Musalov in a rousing three-round contest, awarded to O’Reilly on a unanimous decision.

Two gold medals, inside 90 minutes, and even by the ever freshening heights of Irish boxing, this surpasses anything ever before achieved.

For Taylor, if destiny is playing a part, then this too was written in advance: her lightweight final victory over Estelle Mossely from France coming with a familiar rush of emotional relief, and even with the unanimous decision, Taylor’s face acknowledged that.

“I want to go down in the history books as the greatest female boxer of all time,” said Taylor, not long after stepping down from the top of the medal podium. “I think I’m on the right path.”

That she certainly is - her European Games title adds to to her World, Olympic and European Championships. It was the 18th consecutive title victory in all for the Bray fighter, stretching back a full decade now to her first European gold medal in Tonsberg, Norway in 2005.

“Yeah, and just delighted to get the victory. I felt a bit tired after yesterday’s bout, and managed to pull through. She’s a very tricky opponent. I won every round in there, so I’m delighted with the tactics. Spot, as usual, from my dad (Peter), and Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia. I’m so lucky to have some of the best coaches in the world in my corner. Their tactics for this fight was spot on, and sometimes that’s the difference between winning and losing. I’m so grateful to have those genius coaches in my corner.”

They came into ring with a vastly contrasting record: at 22, Mossely was looking for her first major lightweight title, having lost both her previous championship bouts with Taylor (at last year’s European and European Union Championships) on unanimous decisions. Truth is Taylor won this one equally comfortably.

“Well I felt a bit tired, and my feinting wasn’t as good as usual. I was a bit tired, but I managed to produce the performance. But maybe my semi-final bout just took its toll, mentally and physically. I went into a ring a bit tired, and still pulled through, and that’s the sign of a great champion.

“Yeah, it’s a relief to sit here now with the gold medal around my neck. It’s gorgeous medal, actually. They didn’t spare any money, did they?

“I felt a lot of pressure here this week, as always, during any competition, and I’m delighted to be European Games champion, as well as Olympic champion, and European and World. I’ve got every single major title out there, so it’s great to add this to the list. It’s onwards and upwards. The best is yet to come, and I’m going to go from strength to strength.

“And I do get hungrier for medals, all the time. It’s great to add this to my list. There are a lot of fighters coming up that want to take my place. I think every competition is getting tougher, and because I’m the champion, they always want to raise their game against you, so I have to continue to improve, and up my game. I think some people at home think I just stroll through these competitions, but every fight is hard fought, and hard won.”

O’Reilly obviously came to Baku hungry for medals too, although not many people realised that. And when he took to the ring against Musalov, the home town favourite, with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his entourage sitting in the front row, not many people gave O’Reilly much hope for the gold.

Only he did, taking on Musalov with exceptional fearlessness: the Irishman took the first round, lost the second, but came at Musalov again in the third, and by then there could only be one result.

“Yeah, I knew it was level after the second, and I felt myself, in my heart, that I won the second round as well. I knew I had it won,” said the 22 year-old from Portlaoise. “I knew I was here as the underdog, but that only made me more confident to get in there, and compete with them. I could hear the crowd cheering for him. But that just convinced me to fight my heart out. And that’s what I did.They don’t call us the fighting Irish for nothing, do they?”

Still, it was a display of confidence that defied both his age and experience.

“Well I’m just a confident chap,” he smiled. “It was the only thing on my mind. To win this gold medal. And I have a lot of people to thank. All my coaches back in Portlaoise, Pat Ryan, my father Michael O’Reilly, to Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia.”

O’Reilly admitted he was presented with some extra motivated too, in the form of Taylor herself.

“Yeah, I was watching her fight in the warm-up. Then I was watching her on the podium. And I heard the Irish anthem. That just raised my excitement, to get where she was, on top of the medal podium.”

So he did, two Irish boxers on top of the medal European Games podium, and the making of a great night in Baku.

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