Sunday 18 March 2018

'I have great people around me, great family around me' - Katie Taylor turns corner after tough year

Move to professional ranks has re-energised the Bray boxer inside and outside the ring

Katie Taylor can feel herself getting stronger under the watchful eye of coach Ross Enamait. Photo: Alex Wallace
Katie Taylor can feel herself getting stronger under the watchful eye of coach Ross Enamait. Photo: Alex Wallace
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

On Friday night, within minutes of Katie Taylor's first major television interview since turning pro, The Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy faced a torrent of abuse. He had mistakenly referred to the boxer as her loud-mouthed namesake Katie Hopkins.

The clip went viral and Ryan apologised. But the slip paled in comparison to his other unforgivable - his failure to ask a question about the absence of Katie's father from her team and how this has affected her performance, given that Katie has long credited her father's huge influence on her success.

It's been three months since Taylor's loss at Rio. Three months since the five-time world and six-time European champion suffered a shock Olympic defeat that has perplexed boxing fans.

Before her television appearance, a round-table interview was organised with a group of Sunday newspaper journalists. Taylor took a seat opposite myself and four experienced sports hacks.

We had 20 minutes.

Surely they would see it fit to give it a mention?

For her part, Katie didn't shy away.

"The whole year has been quite disappointing all round," she said, adding that she needed a change. Her recent time in America - training with new coach Ross Enamait - "brought the spark back in me again".

When asked if she feared the spark had gone, she replied: "I think I fell out of love a small bit with the sport over the last year."

She blamed the fact that she has been in the amateur game for too long and said she "just needed a bit of a change".

The last time we met I had shown her a long list of her major wins and wondered if she would be able to handle a loss when it came along. This weekend she said it was heart-breaking. "I would love to be sitting here today as a two-time Olympic champion. But it just wasn't meant to be really."

She is known for the strength of her faith and doesn't use the events of recent months as a reason to change that aspect of her life.

"I'm not angry. I wouldn't be in the position I am today without God. Just because I proclaim how great God is doesn't mean life is going to go smoothly for you. Life is full of ups and downs for anyone and God is still great regardless of whether I win competitions or not. I know that the scripture says, 'You may have many trials and temptations in life and sometimes it's just about perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope and hope never fails'."

One of the sports journalists decides to take a dance around the elephant in the room. Was it important in recent times to be in Connecticut - away from the public gaze?

She shrugs: "It was nice away from all the distractions, it was definitely nice to be away from it and to fully focus on the training. I never really took too much notice about what was said in the papers or in the media side of things but it was just nice as I said to be over there fully focused on the training."

Her coach had her running up mountains to strengthen her legs. She can feel herself getting physically stronger under his watchful eye. Of the almost monk-like existence, she explains "training and rest, training and rest - sometimes that is just what you need."

After 15 minutes no one had asked the big question, so I go in. Will her dad be on her team going forward?

She rolls her eyes humorously: "I knew someone was going to ask that question."

I shrug and tell her no one else seemed as if they were going to. "What do you think?" she jokes, before her manager Brian Peters interjects: it will be a whole new team.

I explain that I know very little about boxing, but on a human level your personal life can affect performance. She shouldn't have to go into details [of what happened to cause the family rift] but the question is still relevant because her father's absence from the corner must have had an effect on her Olympic performance.

"I don't know. It doesn't matter who is in your corner really. If the judging isn't fair in those competitions nobody can do anything about that at the end of the day. And if those decisions had gone my way we would be having a completely different conversation here. So people have to realise that as well." She adds that now "it's a different chapter. I have great people around me, great family around me."

Her manager wants to move it along and focus more on the boxing. I read out Kenneth Egan's quote: "Obviously [her] father not being in the corner is a massive factor and that's the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. I know myself that has a massive effect on her but I don't think anyone's talking about it," he said on a recent sports programme.

Meanwhile, the sports journalists around me are shuffling their feet. One offers an embarrassed smile to Katie.

When it finally gets back to them the most they can muster is: Are you worried about doing The Late Late tonight if those sort of questions are put to you on live television? "I am well able to handle myself," she smiles.

I tell her that I give her credit for being a lot tougher than these lads consider her to be. I wonder if they would have asked Katie more freely if she had been a man in this situation?

But, leaving the elephant aside, we discuss the lucrative pull of professional boxing, and she insists the money isn't her main motivator. "It's obviously important to be financially secure, but I wouldn't say it's something which motivated me changing over. I think I made quite a good living and I was just looking for new challenges and new goals. I had to go where I was more passionate about."

Sky have committed to Katie for three years with roughly six to eight fights per year and her new goals are the stuff of dreams: headlining shows in Croke Park and the O2, a fight in Madison Square Garden with the hope of putting women's professional boxing on the map much like Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm have done for MMA.

As for taking on the show-boating and trash talk associated with the professional game, she says that regardless of a change in her situation: "I don't think I should have to change who I am and I don't think I should have to compromise who I am either."

No matter what happens she is maintaining her class and letting her boxing do the talking. "I'm not one for trash talk," she says. And that applies inside and outside the ring.

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