The travelling show moved on again yesterday. From the Bray seafront to the town centre and on the biggest day of all, it fittingly pitched up in the suburbs of Ballywaltrim.
The star remained the same though. Deep in the shadows of the Little Sugar Loaf, the old mountain that usually captures all the attention in these parts, but as it stared down on the crowds, it will have felt a little lonely for once. All eyes were fixated on the two big screens on the uneven football pitches near Katie Taylor’s house.
It’s not a place for boxing aficionados as the masses were forced to bob and weave to catch sight of the fight, between children raised high on shoulders and flags waved tall. But this has long become about far more than boxing and it’s why half of Dublin packed the Dart stations and trains on the way out, although that journey was more like Coppers at midnight than the Toyko Subway at midday. Yet no matter where they came from, her success so far meant there was an arrogant presumption among those looking in for the first time on her career that this would be easy. They were here for a celebration rather than a fight, but that soon changed. Within four minutes it was quiet as people went from baying for blood to praying for gold.
Kayla Harrison may have been a more emotive story but few have been a bigger story at these Games. BBC spent the morning musing over Katie’s fan base while Sports Illustrated, that bible of it all, wondered if there’s been a more popular athlete this time around. It would have meant little had Katie fallen flat at the final hurdle after carrying women’s boxing on her back. Indeed the standards she had set herself were the only thing that could have brought her crashing down.
Thankfully she’s too talented, too dedicated, and too professional for that and by the end of round three everyone in her home place realised as much and as she surged ahead there was the first real roar of the day. It wouldn’t be the last. The Spanish man next to us chanted “Kelly, Kelly” but nobody sniggered or bothered to correct him. As for the locals, this was for them and that’s the great thing about boxing. It plays on the pride of place that’s entwined with our sporting love on this island. It’s that which has made the sweet science king for a fortnight and will make Katie queen for a lifetime.
Our fighters are accessible, so much so that had Adam Nolan not qualified he’d have been on duty keeping control of the huge crowd as round four began and Katie clung on.
As the seconds counted down, even those shrink wrapped in their Irish jerseys — bought in a time when they were young and fit — tested the fibres further by sticking out their chests with pride. Why wouldn’t they? For so long Bray has been to sport what Belgium has been to skiing. Their local football team last won a Wicklow title in 1935, the county team is one of two sides that haven’t even won provincial honours, and Bray Wanderers tend to plod along. But Bray had moved from that silence to the greatest noise and as Katie’s hand was raised aloft, the tension was cast off into the sky where it mixed with the confetti.
On the way out talk of a statue started. The part of Katie that makes her so mentally strong — her unerring devotion to God — would probably protest such a move. She’s always claimed she’s just an ordinary girl doing her job. But while she’s gotten away with that until now, that just changed.
She left this place a fighter, she’ll return a heroine.
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