|Katie Taylor examines her Olympic gold medal on her way home to Bray|
Con Houlihan was buried just an hour or so before Katie Taylor won her Olympic boxing semifinal last Wednesday. His ashes were already on their way home to Kerry when Katie struck gold 24 hours later. And I know he’d have approved.
Con Houlihan would have got Katie Taylor. He’d have understood the simplicity of her sporting prowess. He’d have appreciated the beauty of her brilliance.
He’d have loved her for what she was and what she will always be from here on in -- an Irish sporting hero.
She’s up there in exalted company now, alongside the greats whose achievements Con brought to life with his beautiful prose. And she deserves to be on that pedestal.
Think Stephen Roche riding down the Champs d’Elysees with the Tour de France title waiting for him at the end of his lap of honor of France.
Think Ray Houghton’s incredible induction into the “who put the ball in the English net” hall of fame in Stuttgart at Euro ‘88.
Or his follow-up hit, the fairytale of New York that was his wonder-goal at Giants Stadium six years later.
Think Paul McGrath at his brilliant best, marshaling the Irish defense and thwarting all Italian raiders that same afternoon.
Think Padraig Harrington winning all before him on the linksland of Carnoustie and Birkdale as he won not one, but two British Open championships.
Think Brian O’Driscoll and Grand Slams, Ruby Walsh and Cheltenham hat-tricks, Aidan O’Brien and derby days out.
Think Henry Shefflin, DJ Carey, Jimmy Keaveney, Mikey Sheehy and Colm O’Rourke.
Think Roy Keane and his namesake Robbie. Think Barry McGuigan at Loftus Road, Bernard Dunne at the Point. Munster vs. Leinster at Thomond Park.
Think everything about sport that makes this little island of ours so great. And add Katie Taylor to that list.
Those who know her, those who have followed her less traveled road to boxing fame and glory, will tell you that Taylor was born to be a superstar.
She made the sacrifices demanded by greatness from an early age. She showed the dedication and the commitment at a time when it was easier to turn away.
She gave up normal life as we know it to blaze a trail for female boxing and for women in Ireland.
That she did all of that without losing any of the values that mean so much to her and her family is all the more laudable.
I’ve watched Katie fight on a couple of occasions but only met her for real on the one occasion when we sat and talked for an hour on the side of a football pitch some four years ago now.
At the time Katie was preparing for a world championship and maintaining her status as a club footballer.
She arrived an hour early to talk boxing and football and life in general.
She was calm and collected, quiet and assertive, all the time engaging.
This was a young woman who knew exactly where her life was going, a young woman in control of her destiny.
She spoke of the hope of fighting in the Olympics some time in the future as she awaited confirmation that women would be afforded equal status with their male counterparts.
And she spoke patiently of her single-minded devotion to boxing, how it didn’t matter that she had nothing of a social life away from sport.
The underlying message that day was that Katie Taylor was serious about her dream of winning Olympic gold for Ireland.
The overriding memory was of an incredibly intelligent young girl who knew exactly what the fates held in store for her.
That dream became a glorious reality last week as Katie entered the Olympic ring at the ExCeL Arena three times and won three times.
The gold medal that accompanied her home to Bray on Monday was no more than she deserved, the accolades that have come her way since that glorious moment last week richly earned.
Taylor proved in London that a dream is always worth having, that a dream is always worth chasing. She also confirmed that any dream can be achieved.
At a time when Ireland can appear to be morally and economically bankrupt on so many fronts, her success offers us so much hope for the future.
The last time we were in the doldrums as a nation, back in the eighties for those of you old enough to remember, we awaited the arrival of a Messiah.
He came from an unexpected quarter. His name was Jack Charlton.
Over the course of nine years Big Jack lived up to our great expectations. He brought us on a wonderful odyssey that included two World Cups, a European Championship and a win over England.
He didn’t inspire the Celtic Tiger, but he did spawn the national self-belief and confidence that fueled Ireland’s economic boom.
Katie Taylor’s gold medal isn’t valuable enough to pay off the national debt around all our necks as I write, even if it is priceless.
But her win, her demeanor in victory, is enough to make us all feel good about being Irish once again after a couple of years of hardship. That’s why she is up there now in the pantheon of Irish sporting greats.
And I’m sure Con Houlihan is looking down on her with a smile on his face.
SOCCER: It was never going to be easy to be a goalkeeper from Donegal trying to follow in Packie Bonner’s footsteps, but Shay Given managed just that and then some. Ireland’s most capped player, he was a magnificent servant to his country and deserves all the praise that has come his way since announcing his retirement on Monday night. I’m still not sure he was fit enough to play in Euro 2012 but we shouldn’t let them detract from his achievements in the green jersey – or even the odd yellow, purple and even black ones he wore on international duty.
SOCCER: The Premier League season returns on Saturday after becoming somewhat lost in all the excitement of the Olympics. The big clubs have yet to really flash their cash in the transfer window, but if Manchester United buy Robin Van Persie from Arsenal, as they are trying to do, they will win the league. If they don’t, their neighbors at City will have reason for another noisy title party.
BOXING: One message is coming out loud and clear after the Olympics – Irish boxing cannot afford to lose coaches Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia no matter how much money it is going to cost to keep them after four medals for boxing at the London Games, one of them gold. Just do it.
HURLING: Time to play the family card. Now that Galway are through to the All-Ireland hurling final I am going to be celebrate the fact that my father and my surname are from the land of the Tribes. Success does lead to that kind of thing!
OLYMPICS: Fair play to the Brits – they did a great job hosting the Olympics and the whole thing went off rather smoothly and rather well. So credit where credit is due. Well done.
HERO OF THE WEEK
YOU only have to say the name Katie in Ireland right now and everyone knows exactly who you are talking about. Katie Taylor was a real hero in London this past week as she won gold for Ireland and put women’s boxing on the map as a worldwide sport. At a time when the country is crying out for role models, we found one. Well done Katie.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
YOU can take your choice between the Aussie reporter who claimed we were all drunk out of our heads celebrating Katie Taylor’s win, the Aussie reporter who said we should have joined up with Britain to win more medals, or the English reporter who claimed golden girl Katie was a Brit. My bet goes on the Telegraph writer who tried to claim Katie Taylor for Britain. She’s great – but she’s not Great British!
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin.)