I was trying to get in to train at the Mardyke Arena this morning but couldn’t get near the dressing room doors. I kept thinking “I’m already late…my coach is going to bloody kill me here.” But there was still no getting past people.
One by one, they stopped me in my tracks to ask me how the hell this was possible? Katie Taylor has been robbed of her dream. It’s a bloody disgrace. People are angry and they’re dead right to be.
Anne, a member of the great staff at the Mardyke stopped me not once but twice to tell me how Katie is an inspiration to the girls and women of Ireland, a hero who deserves the chance to be properly saluted as such. Now that chance is gone.
The news that the Croke Park homecoming fight that Taylor has spent her life fighting for is now dead in the water was confirmed by Eddie Hearn in a couple of interviews on Wednesday afternoon. But rumours have been swirling in Irish boxing for weeks now that the stadium show was looking less and less likely. I had warned a few people outside the inner circles of the sport that what I was hearing wasn’t sounding good but it seemed like they didn’t want to believe it.
Now here we are: the first Irish fight of Taylor’s professional life will not be taking place in front of a crowd of upwards of 90,000 people at Croke Park where she has always envisioned it being but instead is going indoors down the road to the 3Arena, where there might be less than 9000 tickets available. It must feel like a bad dream for Katie.
Who’s to blame? Everyone. Everyone who could have given one of this country’s greatest ever athletes the one thing that she has craved forever. To me, the three groups at the head of the queue are the GAA, the Irish government and Hearn, Katie’s promoter.
Some people find faults with Eddie and the way he does things and fair enough, they’re entitled to their opinions. But what can’t be denied is that he and Matchroom know how to put on a huge stadium show and know how to make the finances of those kind of nights add up. Eddie has staged major fight cards at some of the biggest stadiums in Europe: Wembley Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Nottingham, Sheffield. He’s packed them in everywhere.
But he hasn’t been able to make things work with Croke Park and that says an awful lot. It says a lot particularly about the GAA and their prices. On Wednesday Eddie was suggesting that the cost for Croke Park was three times higher than even Wembley which, if even remotely close to the truth, is absolutely scandalous.
The GAA do incredible things up and down this country. I spent last Saturday night suited and booted at the Rochestown Park Hotel celebrating a brilliant year on and off the field for The Barr’s. My kids seem to spend half their life at the club training and playing. So it doesn’t come easy to me to be hammering the GAA. But surely to Christ this was an occasion for whoever runs the numbers at Croke Park to bring them down a bit, enough for Eddie to have found a way rather than walk away. Croke Park is a magical stadium but here, don't forget it was rebuilt with over €100m of our own tax money too.
Speaking of the government, they all seemed to be rushing to the microphones last summer after Katie had made history at Madison Square Garden when she beat Amanda Serrano in a classic. Ministers and TDs were assuring us there would be government efforts to help make the Croke Park rematch happen.
Now, with a golden opportunity for not just Katie but the sport of boxing that has been starved of positivity and light in the barren years since the Regency Hotel shooting slipping through our hands, where are the ministers? The government has found the funds to support other major sporting events in Ireland. This would have been one of the biggest we’d ever seen. But as it’s all falling apart, there’s not a word from the politicians. How bloody typical.
Back to Eddie because there’s blame for him too. He’s said May 20th is the date he has locked in with broadcasters for the Taylor-Serrano rematch. The Heineken Cup final is at the Aviva on that date which is what forced them to turn to the 3Arena. But why can’t he be more flexible on the date?
Move it a week or two or three. I know Croker might get busy with the Championship then but the Aviva could be back in the picture? If Eddie was organising an Anthony Joshua mega-card and ran into similar problems would he be so stubborn on a date as to bring it to a place not fit for the fight? I don’t think so.
This morning I’ve seen a few people suggesting that maybe Eddie and the bean counters were concerned they wouldn’t actually sell out Croke Park. That’s bullshit. Katie occupies such a unique place in the hearts of not just sports fans but everyone here. She’s a national hero, not just a sporting one. And god knows we love a bandwagon in Ireland.
Katie would have been just the second fighter to headline Croke Park — after Muhammad Ali in 1972. That’s the kind of history we’re talking here. Once a date had been confirmed and the hype machine got going, there would have been a huge rush and the 90,000 would have disappeared sharpish.
Now there’ll be just 9,000 and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you won’t be getting one. They’ll be absolute gold dust. The 3Arena is a fine venue. I beat Anthony Fitzgerald there with one of my better knockouts on a night when the atmosphere was cracking.
Bernard Dunne nearly took the roof off the place the night he won a world title there. Conor McGregor has had the pace buzzing too. So, yes can get an amazing atmosphere there. But it’s easy to do so because the place is low and tight and traps the noise, it can be almost intimate.
Katie didn’t need an intimate night in a place that is less than half the size of the Garden, where she’d had her finest hour against Serrano. She will be 37 this summer. I’ve already written here in this column that I hope this may the last year of her career as a fighter. She has never wavered from her dream of Croke Park and she has earned that dream a hundred times over. This was her best chance...and maybe her last.
It should have been the biggest night of her life and one of the biggest nights in Irish history. Instead it feels like the biggest let-down. Shame on everyone who let Katie down.