National sweetheart humbled by adoration

It has often been rumoured that there was gold to be found in Co Wicklow.

Such long-held lore was finally proven yesterday as Bray’s best-known daughter brought back her Olympic Gold medal for a triumphant homecoming.

Katie Taylor, possibly Ireland’s first-ever national sweetheart, received a rousing reception from her own people on the town’s promenade — a welcome that provided an emotional knockout to the charismatic sportswoman and visibly moved her to tears.

It was a fitting fulfilment of the final chapter of a dream to win Olympic gold which she had conceived as a six-year-old girl at a time when women’s boxing wasn’t even recognised as a sport.

It was all the more emotional as yesterday’s homecoming celebration took place just a stone’s throw away from where Katie first dared to dream such a dream — the no-frills boxing club run by her father, Peter, near the town’s harbour.

The diminutive, but supremely athletic, 26-year-old boxer seemed genuinely humbled by the adulation in which she is clearly held by locals in Bray.

“I’m overwhelmed to be honest. This is incredible,” said Katie as she was greeted on stage alongside her father as well as Ireland’s technical coach, Zaur Antia (a native of Georgia but resident of Bray) and another member of the Irish boxing team, Adam Nolan, a garda who is stationed in Bray.

Katie beamed the most natural of smiles as she gazed out on the town’s seafront with the landmark of Bray Head as a picturesque backdrop — a scene she would have seen six days a week while training.

More than 20,000 fans screamed her name as she proudly held up her medal which glistened as the seaside resort enjoyed a rare but fitting day of golden sunshine. Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ played over the PA system in a fitting musical tribute.

The streets of Bray were lined with Tricolour-waving onlookers from near the county boundary with Dublin, as Katie made her way in an open-top bus from St Brendan’s School in Shankill.

The joy of the occasion was grounded in the crowd’s appreciation that Katie’s Olympic victory represented more than just a series of three successful bouts over a hectic, memorable week in London’s ExCel Arena.

It was a community acknowledging the single-minded endeavour of Katie and her family to pursue sporting excellence without ever feeling the need to abandon her roots or hometown.

This was finally the just reward for a local girl who had already conquered and dominated her sport for many years but whom it was felt had never received the wider recognition for punching above her weight, both literally and figuratively, so consistently.

The Olympic title was just the crowning glory on a natural progression for Katie whose trophy cabinet already holds four world titles and five European championships.

Katie is also an immense source of pride for Bray — a seaside resort which has always struggled to establish its own identity; a satellite town of Dublin which also seems separate from its natural relation with Co Wicklow.

Bray’s mayor, Mick Glynn praised Katie and her family for injecting the town with “confidence and a feelgood factor” which could only benefit the local economy.

“Today is about the Taylor family and recognising what they have done,” said Glynn as the town held a day-long party culminating in a fireworks display last night.

In its own way, Bray Town Council embarrassed more powerful bodies like the Olympic Council of Ireland and Dublin City Council by showing what a small financially-stretched organisation can achieve through proper contingency planning.

Yesterday’s homecoming was the fourth major public event hosted by the council in the space of just over a week as it facilitated communal celebrations of Katie’s progress without any rancour or demarcation rows.

Even the crowd piped up chants of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ to fill the air at one stage when the PA system suffered a temporary breakdown.

Some had queued from before lunch in anticipation of Katie’s scheduled arrival on stage at 5.30pm.

Among the first arrivals were a group from Kanturk, Co Cork — sisters Lorraine, Roisín, and Sinéad Heelan, and their friends, Tracey Cremin and Kieran O’Sullivan, who had left home yesterday morning to guarantee their place in front of the stage at 11.30am.

“Katie is just brilliant. We thought she deserved our support,” was their simple explanation for undertaking such a long journey — a reason magnified by the thousands of people who joined locals to honour Ireland’s golden girl.


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