Katie Taylor’s hometown fans ‘devastated’ but proud

Fans gathered on Bray’s seafront to watch the boxer’s Olympic fight on a big screen

 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was not what they came for. . .

The Bray seafront was basking in glorious mid-August sunshine and a line of multi-coloured festive flags were flying stiff in the strong on-shore breeze.

But nothing could not detract from the sense of nonchalant expectancy of what all assumed was an imminent win for the local girl.

“Good luck Katie,” shouted the banner on the facade of the Martello Hotel, its forecourt and that of others looking out onto the Wicklow seaside town’s promenade jammed with people having a lazy summer afternoon drink.

“Are you ready to see Katie Taylor win?” asked guitar strumming warm-up man Jamie Duff (Damien’s brother) entertaining everyone from the Victorian bandstand.

Hell yeah they were ready. . . but not for what happened.

Thirty-five year old Mira Potkonen from Finland came to Bray almost three years ago only to be beaten (again) by the then newly minted Olympic gold medal champion Katie Taylor when they met in the Ballywaltrim Community Centre ring in a match that was billed as the Bray woman’s true homecoming from her triumph in London.

Potkonen liked the place – “awesome trip”, she posted on her own website afterwards.

“The atmosphere and the vibe was awesome,” she wrote of the reception in Bray.

“People were friendly and [I] feel the real atmosphere of boxing adoration.”

On Monday the adoring crowds came out in force for what most assumed was just a warm-up to at least one more fight later in the week.

Their Olympic champion would not be outside the medal winners, surely?

By the time the big screen beside the bandstand began showing the pre-match studio chat on RTÉ 2, the granite paved plaza and burnt grass lawn between the hotels and bars and the promenade was filled with perhaps 3,000 people – Mums with buggies, T-shirt wearing fellows all sunburn and ice cream, children scampering about happily and without care.

Duff had just sung something about the Gates of Hell and “saying goodbye to all the pain”.

As Taylor was shown walking towards the ring, togged out in red and looking anxious, “There she is,” exclaimed Donaghmede grandmother (“just say 60-something,” she instructed) Theresa Scanlon.

Was she a big fan?

“Aw yeah,” she exclaimed – like she’s just been asked the stupidest question imaginable. She’s never been to Bray before but this was the day to be there.

“Katie, Katie,” shouted the crowd as both women came out swinging for the first round.

But it was apparent immediately that Potkonen was hungrier for the win than the defending champion was for getting into the bronze medal category – let along retaining her title.

“Potknen’s very aggressive,” noted the RTÉ commentator, “[she] probably knows this is her last Olympic games.”

The first round went to Taylor but not the second.

Theresa’s both hands were raised regularly to her face in shock as, more and more, this didn’t look like what was expected.

Too many punches were hitting Taylor; too few of hers were finding Potkonen.

But some did – jabs striking the Finn’s face front and the side of her head. “Better from Katie,” said Theresa in a tone that had a grasping-at-straws tone to it.

“It’s do or die for Katie Taylor,” said RTÉ’s man at the ringside as Bray’s finest went into the fourth round, the result not at all certain, the match seeming to slip from Taylor.

And when the split decision came – essentially a draw with the middle judge shading it for the Finnish boxer – there was a big gasp on Bray seafront followed by shocked silence.

“Devastated. Devastated,” said local TD John Brady. “She looked tired.”

She did and lacking in aggression too.

Theresa was sanguine and preferred to concentrate on what remains an extraordinary record of achievement for Taylor, a multiple champion and still only 30.

“She done her best,” said Theresa. “She done us proud.”

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