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Katie Taylor remains Ireland’s hero, even if the glimpses are fleeting

With no professional fights in Ireland and a base in the USA, boxer stays out of the spotlight

Unless you subscribe to Sky Sports or a streaming service called DAZN you probably won't have seen a Katie Taylor fight since the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

You probably won't see her fight next year either in what will be the biggest bout in women's boxing against Amanda Serrano in Madison Square Garden in New York.

But if you are asked to identify your most admired Irish sports personality, the chances are you are likely to name the undisputed world lightweight champion as your preferred choice.

This being the festive season of giving, concocting lists of names and comparing people in different sports, Katie Taylor’s name as the most admired sports person in Ireland is both surprising and unsurprising.

That is not because she doesn’t deserve the premier listing. It’s because a very large chunk of those surveyed and who voted for her would have rarely seen her competing.

A substantial number of people would have seen her fight over three bouts in the London Olympic Games in 2012, where she won the gold medal. They would have also seen her once in Rio 2016, where she was beaten by Finland's Mira Potkonen.

Otherwise if you want to watch Taylor compete it is by subscription channel or travelling over to the UK, where she has fought 14 times, or to the USA, where she has had six fights. None of her fights since she turned professional after the Rio Olympic Games have been broadcast on RTÉ.

Spontaneous recognition

Yet there she is. Not only did Taylor emerge this year as the most admired Irish sports personality of the Onside survey 2021 but she was also the first in 2020, in 2019, in 2018 and in 2017. Hers is the name that draws the most spontaneous recognition in a survey in which 1,000 adults aged 18+ were canvassed, for the last five years.

For those that care, television and radio personality Ryan Tubridy and musician Christy Moore topped their respective fields.

Tokyo gold medal winner Kellie Harrington also made the top 10 for the first time, coming in at number four, which is in itself quite the modern sporting statement. How attitudes have been inverted. Two female boxers in the top 10 of most admired sports people in Ireland never could have happened 10 years ago.

Both boxers struggled when they were young to enter the male-dominated sport and now, ironically, they are the most admired in it. Right back atcha.

That the survey was conducted among people not necessarily interested in sport speaks to Taylor’s attraction. In any random sample of 1,000 people a large portion would not have any interest in sport. Her appeal is as it always has been and easily crosses boundaries between young and old, male and female.

The fact that her sport is also one that divides people along lines of taste and opposition to its violence does not appear to have had any negative impact. It also seems that those who threatened to stop following her when she abandoned the amateur ranks have not done so, or, they have been replaced by those who admire what she has achieved in professional boxing.

What is also interesting is that Taylor 'performs' only a few times a year so her visibility, in terms of exposure to audiences, remains quite low. In 2021, she had only three fights - in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool - and in a Covid-hit 2020 just two fights in Wembley and in a specially constructed ring in the garden of her promoter, Eddie Hearn, in Essex. Even going back to 2019, she had just three fights - in Philadelphia, New York and Manchester.

In between those bouts, she spends her time in Connecticut in the USA, diligently training and largely kept out of the public eye. None of her professional fights over five years have been staged in Ireland and that is likely to remain the case.

Yet, her standing between last year and this year went up by four per cent to take 25 per cent of the vote, or 250 people from the 1,000 surveyed.

International stage

In second place was Brian O'Driscoll followed by Roy Keane, Kellie Harrington, Shane Lowry, Johnny Sexton, Paul O'Connell, Pádraig Harrington, Conor McGregor and Rory McIlroy.

What they all have in common is that, at one time in their careers, they excelled on the international stage and are now easily recognisable figures globally as well as in Ireland.

Still, the name at the top is again the athlete that does the least amount of media and has little interest in self-promotion other than what she is obliged to do by her promoter to generate interest in her bouts.

It’s the name that, from the beginning of her amateur career, has been entirely indifferent to fame, profile and celebrity, but emerges as the most luminary figure among sporting giants.

For a boxer who had won three successive amateur World Championships in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and five successive amateur European Championships in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 before anybody actually began to take notice, Taylor has organically consumed people’s admiration and affections.

That she can’t stop winning is part of the piece. But the simple grace and humility of a high achiever, who doesn’t seek attention but always gets it, is something that cannot be manufactured. In the fake world of professional boxing, Taylor is authentic. That’s what people voted for.

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