Katie Taylor hailed as role model in hometown Bray
SHE may be on the brink of bringing home gold, but magnetic Katie Taylor's feet will remain firmly on the ground.
Hailed as the next great role model for a generation, the 26-year-old has become the nation's sweetheart.
And her normal, quiet and down-to-earth ways are the reasons her hometown of Bray, Co Wicklow, swelled with pride as she landed the winning punches that secured her place in the Olympic final.
"To talk to her you would never believe she is a world champion," said Pat Jordan, a close friend of Taylor's father Peter Taylor.
"Where she lives, she's like a magnet for young girls. She talks to them as an equal and not a champion."
Up to 4,000 supporters swayed from side to side as The Fields of Athenry echoed through the streets of the seaside town as Taylor boxed clever to secure at least a silver medal in tomorrow's fight against Russia's Sofya Ochigava.
A sea of green, white and orange swelled with pride and chanted in jubilation as she shuffled and then showboated her way through the semi-final, finally securing a comfortable 17-9 victory.
Tricolours emblazoned with "Fightin' Irish" were draped from buildings lining the main street, where the crowds swarmed around two big screens to cheer on Taylor.
Face-painted children with tricolour wigs were hoisted onto parents' shoulders, waving flags and blowing whistles amid scenes of national pride.
In a country sickened by the billions lost by bankers and the loss of economic sovereignty, Taylor's humble attitude and sweet nature have gripped the imagination, explained Mr Jordan.
The Bray local, who lives near Taylor's family home, said she alone has injected a whole new lease of life into the town - and Ireland.
"Katie's success has brought a whole new atmosphere, a buzz to Bray that has been missing about the town with the recession and the depression," he said.
"But there's now this new optimism, this sense of hope for the future and it's all on Katie's shoulders. I know she has it in her to take it on her shoulders."
Taylor's appeal is not reserved for the adults alone.
Three-year-old Addy Clarke proved just how much of an inspiration the darling of Irish sport has become.
"I want to be like Katie when I'm big," the toddler said.
Mr Jordan's daughter-in-law Ingrid, who taught Taylor at Sunday School, said her sporting success and modesty could be traced back to her parents Pete and Bridget.
She said the pair "sacrificed everything" to give their children the best start in life - including real discipline and humility.
"As a baby, Katie didn't talk much. But she has the most beautiful eyes you've ever seen. They say 'when Irish eyes are smiling' - that just sums up Katie," said Ms Jordan.
"She's the role model I would like to see every child in this country look up to. Not the bankers, not the politicians - this lovely young girl from Bray."
Others said they were looking forward to Bray becoming a boxing hub.
Denis Walsh, who lives near the Oldcourt Estate where Taylor grew up, said the town expects even bigger things from her in the future.
"If you're from Bray, you have to be a good fighter," Mr Walsh joked. "But Katie's just something else."
Meanwhile, friends Sarah Doyle, Clare Murphy and Linda O'Neill, who all travelled from Wicklow Town, said Taylor was an inspiration to them.
"She could have been world champion at any sport she's that good," said Ms Murphy.
"But she's doing it for the girls with the boxing and we're so proud of her. She's a credit to the county and all of Ireland."
The crowds were unanimous in their compliments for local girl Taylor, with most of them certain she is "the best thing to come out of Bray".