LIKE Sonia O’Sullivan before her, 5ft 5in Katie Taylor carried the Ireland flag at the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games, as well as the hopes of a nation, and duly delivered when it mattered most with a historic boxing gold at London 2012.
With women’s boxing featuring at an Olympic Games for the first time, interest and intrigue alike were high as lightweight Taylor stepped into the squared circle inside the ExCel exhibition centre.
Roared on by a healthy contingent that had crossed the Irish sea to support the Bray boxer, Taylor instantly gave her fans something to shout about with victory over home favourite Natasha Jones to reach the semi-final.
Taylor had, of course, long been on the radar of boxing fans, having fought on the undercard of Bernard Dunne’s world title fight at the Dublin O2 in 2009, not to mention bagging multiple amateur medals at both European and World level.
An Olympic medal was about to be added to her collection, which position on the podium she would stand on was now the question.
Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva was no match for Taylor in the semi-final and the international footballer – capped 19 times by Ireland – was minutes away from the biggest prize of her illustrious career.
Thursday 9th August 2012 was the date. While millions tuned in on television, a capacity crowd, pushing the 6,000-mark, created noise more akin to Croke Park on All-Ireland Hurling final day at the first glimpse of Taylor. She even covered her ears as her name was announced ahead of the bout, such were the decibel levels.
Though the final with Russia’s Sofya Ochigava was closely fought – round three of four aside – it felt as though we were simply witnessing a procession toward Taylor fulfilling a childhood dream.
Ochigava held a one-point lead at the halfway stage of the bout, her tactic of counting punching seemingly paying off.
But our girl displayed fast footwork and an explosive left hook to dazzle the Russian in round three and take the lead in the fight, before boxing clever in the last to ensure victory.
When her hand was raised to declare Taylor the Olympic champion, euphoria, relief and downright pride were spilled out at once.
“It’s what I’ve always dreamed of,” said an emotional Taylor.
Ireland’s favourite daughter had delivered.