06 Dec 2021

“Katie is a modern day Gaia” - says proud Darren

Kilkenny boxer, Darren O’Neill has qualified for the Olympic Games in London this summer.

Kilkenny boxer, Darren O’Neill has qualified for the Olympic Games in London this summer.

He watched in admiration as he was joined on the Irish team by World boxing champion, Katie Taylor, who will box at the first championships for women at the Games.

Darren penned a piece on how he felt watching a true champion.

As I woke wearily to alarm bells ringing, aching after an exacting week of training, thinking how I would love to roll over for a few more hours, I remembered why I had set the alarm for 8am. I was getting up to witness brilliance. I was getting up to watch a Titan of my sport do what she repeatedly does - perform!

Perform with a consistency and deliverance matched by no other I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a gym with.

It was finals day at the World female boxing championships in China. Katie Taylor walked to the ring behind an Irish placard, with her dad Pete. On three previous occasions she had undertaken this same passage, coming away with a gold medal each time. Could she do it again?

With Katie enjoying so much success the pressure mounted and the burden of expectation was placed on her strong, yet sleek shoulders. Although I’m sure that for her much was lifted three days previous when achieving her dream of Olympic qualification, she was still about to compete in a World championship final against a world class opponent who had beaten her in the past.

Held our breath

Katie was still stepping into an enclosed square where her Russian opponent would be attempting to punch her as much as she could, not to mention trying to wrestle back the distinction of being considered the best pound-for-pound female on earth.

Two rounds, and nothing between them. We held our breath as things remained even in the eyes of the judges, 2-2 after the first, 4-4 after the second. At this stage, whether from tiredness or awe, I felt as if I was watching a film where the hero, or heroine in this case, may seem like they are or can be beaten only for everything to work out in an awesome performance. Such would be the case.

I watched in admiration as Katie somehow remained seemingly unfazed by the escalating tension, physically and mentally, enduring all her Russian counterpart could dish at her, all the while picking off her scores with clinical precision. Leading 8-6 at the penultimate bell, I felt solace in what by now felt like the recurrence of natural order.

Needing only to match her opponent in the final round to retain the crown, Katie finished in style, out-scoring the Russian. Finishing 11-7, Katie cemented her position as the greatest female boxer on the planet.

As I listened afterwards to national coach, Billy Walsh, echoing my thoughts on how she in underappreciated as a legend in her own time, I began to think of my own appreciation of our present day Gaia, the Goddess of Earth. I recalled on an experience almost two Olympic cycles ago.

Kept elbows tucked in

On a one-off type occasion (due to weight and size difference) I was actually paired against Katie for a round of schooling where we each had specific simple goals. but at a low intensity. Even then we knew Katie was special, but I’ll never forget her taking my breath away in a way I didn’t imagine any girl would… with a body shot!

I tried not to show any signs of physical anguish due to her being a lot lighter and smaller, and after all, she was “just a girl”. One thing’s for certain, I made sure my elbows were tucked in tightly for the rest of that round.

As coverage reverted to the medal presentation, and Billy pleaded with the public to allow us boxers prepare peacefully without the burden of pressure and expectations, I could not but feel proud in being associated with and represented by such an athlete. With all her success and with the postulation of Olympic glory upon her she still remains true to herself, her beliefs and her dream.

Katie, we are eternally humbled.

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