Katie Taylor is doing more than inspiring Ireland — she is also impressing the leader of Britain.
David Cameron was among the fans squeezed into the ExCel Centre yesterday for the Bray woman’s 17-9 semi-final victory over Mavzuna Chorieva to set up this afternoon’s gold medal fight with Russian Sofya Ochigava.
And even the British prime minister was moved by the atmosphere generated by the thousands of Irish supporters who dominated the 10,000-strong crowd. “It is an incredible venue and good to see so many of the Irish here today. They make a lot of noise. The boxing was really impressive. I thought it was fantastic and great to watch,” he said.
Long before Taylor stepped into the ring, the songbook of Irish fans was out and aired. There was a warm-up blast of Ireland, Ireland and Olé, Olé, Olé before the announcer began to ask for a warm welcome for Taylor as she entered the ring. She never managed to finish her sentence as the venue erupted.
And all of that was before a punch was thrown.
For the next eight minutes the ExCel rocked and rolled with Taylor’s punches and the accompanying soundtrack, The Fields of Athenry.
Irish Sports Council chief executive John Treacy is no stranger to the noise of Irish supp-orters ringing in his ears.
An Olympic silver medallist in the 1984 marathon in LA, even he was blown away by the show of affection for the Bray woman. “I am very proud. That was a fantastic performance from a fantastic sportswoman. Katie is an example for the rest of the country. As you can see from the crowd, she owned that stadium. The whole of Ireland it seemed were here cheering her on.”
Brian Cusack was among the Irish support inside the arena.
“Katie Taylor,” he replied when asked why he had come to the Olympic Games. “Katie was the centrepiece. You like to be supporting someone that is doing well and she is doing brilliant. And she deserves an Olympic title. I’m delighted for her and all the work she has put in.”
The Westport man has travelled the world in support of Irish teams and competitors but the scene he witnessed yesterday surpasses all others.
“I have been at a few sporting events and nothing compares to this. I have been at two Olympic Games, World Cups, European Championships, but it would be nothing like the atmosphere there. I think there were 10,000 in there and it seemed that about 9,500 of them were Irish.”
And Cusack expects a titanic battle today. “Can she win gold? Yes, for sure. The girl she fought in the quarter-final I thought was very good. I thought she could have been in the final with the luck of the draw. But this Russian will be no walkover either.”
It was easy to spot Ann Doyle’s country of origin. Wearing a Tricolour in central London tends to stand out. The Carlow native said: “Katie Taylor is the best athlete that Ireland has ever produced. I don’t care what anybody says — who wins all those world and European titles? No one does. It has been amazing. The amount of Irish over here is crazy. The atmosphere the last time was nearly better because she was up against a British girl in the quarter-final so everyone was going mad.
“We were just trying to take on the home crowd. But I think she will definitely win.”
Maynooth resident Pat O’Mara was shouting himself hoarse along with wife Gillian and children Daniel, 8, and Aoibheann, 5.
“It was a chance of a lifetime to get over and it is a bonus to catch Katie as well,” he said of their trip to the Olympics.
“This was our third time at the boxing and then Daniel and myself were at the football in Manchester watching Brazil. Gillian went off to beach volleyball and we are off to volleyball on Thursday. We are over for the week and trying to catch as much as we can.”
Gillian added: “The atmosphere was electric. Everyone from Aoibheann’s age all the way up was up on their feet. I have to say when I heard The Fields of Athenry the hairs on the back of the neck definitely stood up.”
And when Aoibheann was asked for a prediction on today’s final, she paused for a second and then replied: “Katie.”
RTÉ have apologised to those who were following the Katie Taylor fight online yesterday when the website crashed due to the volume of traffic.
Supporters, many of whom would have been at work while the fight was going on, were left horrified when the site failed to launch.
Many more who tuned in would have done so from various places around the globe but were subsequently forced to resort to the radio for the fight against Mavzuna Chorieva.
The National broadcaster tweeted: “Sincere apologies to all who missed Taylor fight. Volume of traffic caused site to crash. We are investigating why servers did not cope.”
— Brian Canty
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