Eamon Carr: Katie Taylor hasn't been the same boxer since her father left her corner
There was a time when Katie Taylor was winning closely-contested fights.
Unfortunately, this year, we’ve seen her lose them.
We’ve seen the Bray boxer distraught before. But nothing like yesterday when Katie (30) lost on a split-decision to a 35-year-old mother-of-two from Finland.
The contrast between both camps could hardly have been greater.
As Taylor was ushered away by coaches Zaur Antia and Eddie Bolger, Mika Potkonen, the boxer who was going through to the semi-final in search of a place in the final, was all but pinching herself in disbelief.
“It was awesome,” she gushed. “I have lost to her so many times. So it’s great.”
A split-decision, the final arbitration was made by a judge from Ecuador who, on a personal count back, gave the tie to Potkonen.
It was heartbreaking for Taylor, the five-times world champion, who was hoping to win her second Olympic gold.
Zaur Antia was furious at what he regarded the wrong decision. But, as we’ve seen in this championship, tight matches have all too often appeared to go the wrong way.
It may be a factor of the scoring system the judges use or it may be that Katie has lost a mili-fraction of the edge that previously saw her outfox and out-box her opponents.
While, for most of her career, Taylor left no one in any doubt that she was the superior boxer. The better the talent in international tournaments is, the more essential it is to convince those with their fingers on the buzzers that you’re landing the most punches.
Frustratingly, Taylor seemed content to play high stakes poker yesterday when it might have been more advisable to get stuck in.
There may also be another possible reason somewhere in the wider world of sports politics. As the reigning Olympic champion, Katie is said to have declined an offer to be an international ambassador for the women’s boxing.
A bit like Conor McGregor not wanting to travel and undertake promo engagements, Katie wanted to spend time in the gym working on her skills and her fitness.
But those who enjoy a conspiracy theory might wonder if the former poster girl for women’s boxing might have been a victim of a growing global need for celebrity and corporate razzamatazz.
We’ve seen Katie endure the tension of tight decisions before. Most noticeably in the final in London 2012 when a torrid final round had us wondering if she’d done enough to hold on to her lead and win gold.
I recall Katie saying later that evening that she hadn’t known what way the result was going to go.
When Katie’s arm was raised in triumph, her opponent Sofya Ochigava was furious. The fight had been close. On the London judge’s scorecards, they’d each won one round and drawn two.
Yesterday, a similar knife-edge decision went against Katie. That, as they say, is boxing.
People may have forgotten Katie Taylor’s story. It bears a measure of repeating.
Boxing since she was eleven, for years she trained in a shed on Bray harbour that didn’t have a bathroom. Katie would run down to the local bar to use the toilet facilities.
She was boxing internationally at a time where women’s boxing was discouraged in Ireland. It was through her talent, dedication and example, that the IABA finally agreed to introduce the women’s boxing programme that has since proved hugely popular.
Even before the London Olympics she had been bringing home medals from the World and European championships. When women’s boxing was introduced in London in just three weight divisions, all the elite women boxers worked to qualify in one of those three divisions, making things even more difficult.
Her coach then was Peter, her father, who explained that his daughter was the boxer other boxers dreamed of beating.
“The medals were hard to win and they’re getting harder,” he told me. “We’re trying to keep a step ahead of everyone.”
Unfortunately, in recent times it seems that Pete and Katie have been out of step.
Peter hasn’t been in Katie’s corner this year. Yesterday, when in a wounded voice, she said: “It’s been a very, very tough year. A lot of losses…”, there was a sense that she was grieving. And not just for having lost a bout but for having lost her coach, her father.
For Katie to have switched from the coach who had guided her to all her great victories so unexpectedly is a bit like saying Alex Ferguson had quite Manchester United in mid-season during their great run of Premier League victories.
Without her dad beside her, Katie hasn’t been the same incisive, determined and ruthless boxer she once was.
In April, Katie lost in semi-final of an Olympic qualifying tournament in Turkey to Yana Alekseevna (Azerbaijan). The following month, she was beaten in the World championships to Estelle Mossely (France).
Yesterday, perhaps when it mattered most, she lost to Mika Potkonen.
Denied a medal, any medal, in these Games, Katie Taylor will face some difficult soul-searching in the weeks ahead.
She still has her strong religious faith to help her through the days of doubt. Yesterday, as she left the arena, she had her mother in close attendance.
But, perhaps, it was the coaching influence of her father and cornerman confessor, that had been missing in the crucial run up to this tournament that was most noticeable in its absence.