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Friday 29 August 2014

Ireland's golden girl Katie jewel in crown

Published 07/01/2013 | 05:00

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The awards keep coming but the diligence to routine doesn't fade. On Saturday morning, prior to travelling to Dublin's Westbury Hotel to pick up the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award for 2012 – in association with the Croke Park Hotel – Katie Taylor embarked on a two-hour run as her preparations intensify for a return to the ring in the Bord Gais Theatre next month.

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Later that evening, with the latest in a series of personal awards humbly accepted, she returned home to Bray for a further two-hour session in the gym under the watchful eye of her father and trainer Pete who, with her mother Bridget and other family members and friends, had accompanied her to the awards lunch.

The time for basking in the glory of realising her Olympic dream in 2012 has passed and a couple of days off over Christmas was as much as she afforded herself as she returned to what are the habits of a lifetime.

Twice a winner of the Irish Independent's Young Sportstar of the Year award before, Katie was the overwhelming choice of Irish Independent readers as their star of a most memorable 2012.

Decorated

In a year when Rory McIlroy added a second Major and put vast distance between himself and the rest in the rankings as golf's world No 1 by topping the order of merit lists on both sides of the Atlantic, and Henry Shefflin established himself as the most decorated hurler of all time with a ninth All-Ireland medal, Katie's achievement shone brightest of all.

It felt right because of the indelible impact Katie left on the country last August as she took her sport almost singlehandedly into the mainstream.

She had so much to gain but equally so much to lose as women's boxing took its bow on sport's greatest stage for the first time.

With her dominance, the 26-year-old had parted the waters for that to happen, so for her not to be one of the first to plant her flag on the other side would simply not have stacked up.

With four world titles and five European crowns, she has been her sport's most recognisable figure for years but the Olympic brand has the enduring capacity to take some sports deeper into the public eye than they have ever been before.

That was the pressure she was under, but which she was able to absorb, in a thrilling week in London's ExCeL Arena that saw her come from behind after two rounds to claim the inaugural women's lightweight crown against Russian Sofya Ochigava.

The presence of another female boxer – Dundalk southpaw Amy Broadhurst who had captured the European junior featherweight champion in Poland in November – at the lunch as a weekly award winner and contender for Young Sportstar of the Year is an indication of the meteoric rise the sport is enjoying here.

In accepting the award, Katie exuded her usual grace and humility as she expressed her hopes for more Amy Broadhurst to follow in her footsteps.

Christmas had been quiet, she said – save for those who had called to her door for signatures to her recently published book – with precious time spent at home with family.

The new year presents fresh challenges – given that Katie had reconciled herself to remaining an amateur and is consequently planning ahead for Rio 2016.

The pressure may never be as great but the expectancy will never leave the side of Ireland's golden girl.

Colm Keys

Irish Independent

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