Warrior hero turns hope into expectation for fans
KATIE shimmied and the thousands of Irish eyes glued to her every move blinked as if confronted with an improbable mirage.
It was just a brief dance, little more than a swivelling of the hips, but it was as powerful as a thunderous haka.
What was this? It wasn't a victory celebration, as the bell was just about to herald the end to Round 3, with one left to fight. There were still two long minutes to go before the silver medal was around Katie's slim neck. Two minutes wherein anything could happen.
It was confidence. That's what it was. Pure confidence. It poured from her and flowed over the canvas and out into the sea of green, white and orange which enveloped her on all sides of the arena. And the crowd drank deep of this unfamiliar nectar and then cheered and cheered, heady from the strangeness of it.
For so many years the carnival river that is the Green Army has streamed into so many sports venues all over the world -- but all too often it travels in hope rather than expectation. Hope that our sportsmen or women will defy the odds or ride their luck or perform out of their skins.
There is always optimism, bags of it. But confidence? A different ballgame altogether.
Then along came Katie Taylor, warrior-woman, imbued with talent and self-belief in equal measure. And this week in London, hope blossomed into expectation.
Once more yesterday the ExCel was awash with Irish, swathed in flags and bathed in the delicious sensation that Katie should win the semi-final bout against Tajikistan's Mavzuna Chorieva.
Should, and could.
But still a huge roar went up when Nicola emerged, both flags waving together. It only seemed fair, the British have been supporting Irish athletes all the way through the Games.
There was some booing when British Prime Minister David Cameron was interviewed after Katie's fight -- but it came from a couple of unimpressed English chaps in the crowd.
Still, David was as nice as pie. "It's good to see so many of the Irish here -- you make a lot of noise," he commented to cheers. "Katie's really fantastic," he added to more cheers, as one of the Unimpressed Chaps bellowed, "she could beat you".
And if the decibel level of Katie's match on Monday was louder than a plane taking off, then the maelstrom of mayhem which erupted when the scarlet-clad boxer strode into the arena yesterday was surely akin to the sound of the self-same eitilean breaking the sound-barrier.
Katie never cracked the ghost of a smile as she walked through the cacophony of celebration, everybody on their feet now, roaring her name. Her focus wasn't on the pandemonium, it was on her opponent.
Katie radiated calm and took control. This fight wasn't about fireworks and fusillades of jabs and uppercuts. Her concentration was total as she danced and swerved and waited for her opponent to come to her. Then Katie struck, left, right, lightning fast.
It was 3-1 to the Bray boxer, then 7-3. Around the arena, the crowd were lashing through their repertoire. A mighty 'Ole, Ole, Ole' swept around the venue, swiftly followed by 'The Fields of Athenry'. What a different setting for this song from its last mournful airing in Poznan two months ago.
Round 3, and the fans didn't need the 13-6 scoreline to tell the tale. Katie's shimmy had said it all. Believe.
As the final bell sounded, Katie's dad Peter scampered up the steps arms aloft and enfolded her in a fierce hug. As he removed her head guard, the other Katie emerged, smiling, ready to acknowledge the rapturous melee, the bawled chants for her 17-9 demolition.
Then she slipped into her scarlet robe and with a last wave, took her leave to go and dream of gold. So close now.
The green wave poured out of the arena, ebullient and elated.
Outside, a bunch of jubilant women were brandishing a fabulous flag -- 'Knock Fifty Shades of Bray Outta Her'. They were all pals of Katie, and among them one of her close friends, Dearbhail Lawless, from Bray, was explaining what it was like to watch Katie at the Olympics.
"I was very emotional. I cried my eyes out on Monday, today I just felt really overwhelmed. She's such a hero. We're so happy that she's coming into herself -- she did a little dance in the ring today and Katie is usually so humble and shy a person, so to see her coming out of herself in that way is amazing. We're all so proud of her."
Dearbhail said that they had sent her pictures and videos of the celebrations in Bray and in London. "She's just so proud that all the Irish people have come out to support her and she loves it."
Irishman Sean Harkin is working as a volunteer at the Games. He thinks she'll triumph today. But he doesn't have a ticket.
"But I haven't given up hope," he smiled.