Katie has had it all except the homecoming she deserves

Katie has had it all except the homecoming she deserves
Katie Talyor works out ahead of Saturday’s WBO super lightweight title fight against Christina Linardatou. It will be her 15th professional fight, bouts which have taken her to London, Manchester, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, but never Dublin or Belfast. Picture: Lewis Ward/Matchroom Boxing USA via Sportsfile.

Go Katie go.

Another milestone looms in the extraordinary career of Katie Taylor.

She headlines the bill at the Manchester Arena as she attempts to become only the third Irish boxer to win world titles at two different weight divisions.

The bout against Christina Linardatou of Greece for the WBO super lightweight title comes five months after she unified the belts in the lightweight division with a paper-thin decision over Belgium’s Delphine Persoon at Madison Square Garden.

Shane Ross is poised and ready. Sadly, homecoming celebrations with the Minister at Dublin Airport and in her home town of Bray are as close as Taylor gets to performing in her own country these days.

On home soil, Katie’s famous footwork is only required to dodge the attentions of photobombing politicians.

Saturday will be her 15th professional fight, bouts which have taken her to London, Manchester, New York, Philadelphia,Boston, but never Dublin,Belfast, nor even a giant barn in Millstreet.

Dublin has hosted all manner of sporting events in that time. MMA gorefests, American college football jamborees, wrestling smash-ups. Darts has drawn them in their thousands to witness the lords of the oche in action. But never a Katie Taylor fight.

Not since her days of winning national championships has our greatest active sporting icon entered a ring here.

Indeed, given that the biggest successes of her amateur career were at the London Olympics and at World Championships in destinations like Korea, India, and Barbados, by the time Taylor retires it is unlikely that an Irish crowd will ever have seen one of her truly barrier-smashing moments of glory, save for an exhibition fight on Bernard Dunne’s world title card 10 years ago.

That night came in a different era for Irish boxing.

Big-time professional fight cards don’t happen in Ireland anymore, since the fallout from the Regency Hotel shooting in 2016.

The murder of Kinahan cartel member David Byrne at a boxing weigh-in and a subsequent shooting at an underage event at the National Stadium in January 2018 were part of a grotesque criminal narrative which counted Irish boxing among its collateral damage.

The fact that so many Irish boxers are signed to the MTK Global stable, which banned its fighters from boxing in Ireland or speaking to Irish media for a year over perceived negative coverage of alleged links to Daniel Kinahan, further complicates the picture.

An Irish fight for Taylor once seemed part of the strategy for her global domination, even taking the slippery words of boxing promoters with the required mounds of salt.

Every post-fight interview in the breathless early days suggested an eventual homecoming, and when she won her first world title belt in October 2017 it seemed tantalisingly close.

“I think probably March/April time in Dublin in a unification fight — to try and unify the division — that’s the plan, that’s the aim,” said promoter Eddie Hearn in December 2017. “I think the homecoming is on.”

But 2018 rolled around and Taylor’s fights were booked for big cards in New York and Dublin.

“We had talks recently with the powers that be and they advised us that the climate is not conducive to having a fight night,” her manager Brian Peters said in 2018 referencing the grisly atmosphere of the time.

It’s very tricky, really, to get into it. We still hope to fight here. But if you want to run a show, there are the sanctioning bodies, the Gardaí; there are a whole load of boxes you have to tick.

And that seems to be that. Taylor has gone on to unify the lightweight belts, box on the undercard of heavyweight title nights and this weekend seeks to do what only Steve Collins and Carl Frampton have previously done in Irish boxing history.

And all of it in places far from home, winning over British and American crowds, smashing more barriers, building a sport on a global scale.

And what does it matter that she will do all this on foreign shores? Isn’t that what international sports stars do, hurl the little streets upon the great, leave their small-town roots behind and take over the world?

Sonia did it in Gothenburg, Roy in the football cathedrals of England and Europe, Rory on lush American fairways.

But Katie is different. Despite her strength and toughness there is a part of us that wants to mind her. It is as if we have inherited the tone the late Jimmy Magee used with her, which was the protective pride of an old man watching his granddaughter learn to ride a bicycle.

We love her because of how she battles shyness and vulnerability to allow the ferocious glory of her true nature to flourish. We know she doesn’t enjoy the sleeveens and spivs of pro boxing but tolerates it all to express herself in the ring.

She is an icon for us in the truest sense of the word, in that she represents something bigger than herself. Probably the greatest thing that Irish sport has given to the broader wellbeing in recent decades is its ambassadors for gender equality.

Think of all the slogans of this movement. She believes. This girl can. Can’t see, can’t be.

Katie was the one who first believed in them all. She was inspirational before that word became devalued. She deserves a night to be celebrated for what she has meant to us. To be thanked.

At 32 and with a long career already behind her, there might not be too many more chances. But she hasn’t given up.

“Obviously the dream will be fighting at home one day,” she said in January.

“I can’t wait to fight in Dublin, that is going to be amazing. I can’t wait for the day it actually happens, but for now I’m happy to be fighting in the UK and America and getting great support everywhere I go.”

For the girl who refused to be told what she cannot do, there remains one last thing.

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