With RTE’s 2012 Irish Sports Person of the Year award hovering into view in the next couple of weeks, it seems Katie Taylor is many people’s favourite to take home the prize. Even if it has been a 12 month spell which has seen so much notable achievement by Irish competitors in all types of codes, the boxer from Bray still seems to be something of a shoe-in. As fantastic an athlete as she has proven to be since emerging on the world stage, this would be a bit of a travesty. Even if Taylor deserves and has received plenty of acclaim at home and abroad this past few months, this is not an award she should be winning this year.
There seems to be a conspiracy of silence in Ireland about a rather large elephant in the room. At the Olympics, Taylor fought three times to win gold. Three times! Now, those of us who have never stepped through the ropes and put our bodies in the line of fire may have a bit of a cheek to say this but, it’s still worth saying. She won three fights to win a very soft medal. Again, that word soft may offend many but you know what I mean. This was hardly the most keenly-contested discipline in the London Games, was it? What does it say when at the biggest tournament in its short history as a women’s sport, you get a bye in the first round?
I know Taylor put years into preparing for what happened last August. I appreciate that. I also admire wholeheartedly the way she has bravely worn her religious beliefs on her sleeve and conducted herself with so much class. She is a great role model for young people and living proof of what can be achieved with determination and dedication. Indeed, she is such a great story that it’s not surprising that there is talk of a movie being made about her life. As Clint Eastwood will testify and as somebody like Saoirse Ronan (the bookies’ favourite to play her) may discover, female boxing is box office gold in Hollywood.
That’s all very well but how can Taylor win this award when an Irishman is currently the number one player in golf. Not only is he the world number one (a boast that has been devalued a tad by majorless Englishmen in the past few years), he has just come to the end of a three and a half month stretch during which he has dominated the sport completely. His peers are running out of superlatives to describe the stuff he’s been doing on the course although one particular competitor came up with the perfect description for his form.
“Rory is playing like Tiger did in his young days,” said South African Charl Schwartzel who finished third behind the victorious Mcllroy at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai a few weeks back, “and it’s amazing to see.”
Counting last December’s victory in the Hong Kong Open, Mcllroy has won six tournaments in 12 calendar months. In the middle of the run, he rattled off one of the most impressive victories at a major since, well, since his first major at the US Open in 2011. On its own, his win at Kiawah Island in August should have been enough to make him sports star of the year in Ireland. Remember, the USPGA is the major which boasts the best field of the big four so Mcllroy had to go out and beat more than 140 of his peers over the course of four days. And he did this by eight strokes in the end.
In contrast, Taylor fought three times in London and the third victory wasn’t, ahem, exactly clear-cut as the Russian can rightly claim to have been the victim of some rather weird judging. Not to mention too there were only nine other fighters in the lightweight category at the Excel Arena in the first place.
This isn’t an attempt to put Taylor down. It’s just an attempt to put her achievement in context. She won a gold medal in a sport with not enough competitors to have a fully-populated first round. Mcllroy is currently sitting astride one of the most popular sports in the world and evincing the kind of form that is causing serious pundits to talk about him having the potential to be one of the best ever. Taylor was in the first wave of female boxers. Nothing she did in London suggests she’ll end up in the pantheon of the greats.
As we’re on the subject of greatness, there’s also a case to be made for Henry Shefflin receiving the award in recognition of winning his ninth All-Ireland medal. Again, the argument in his favour is that he played a crucial role in the winning of all nine of those titles and breaking the record of Christy Ring and John Doyle is truly historic stuff. He won this award back in 2006 but, if anything, his claims for the trophy this time around are even more compelling. Or at least they would be if Mcllroy wasn’t ripping golf’s record book apart after a season some in American golf regard as one of the greatest in the history of the game.
It needs to be pointed out that this end of year prize stuff shouldn’t be taken too seriously. What is good fireside chatter for the rest of us tends not to matter too much to the athletes themselves. They are too concerned with winning the serious prizes in their chosen fields to worry overmuch about an RTE award at Christmas. However, scanning the list of probables in contention to be crowned Ireland’s sportsperson of the year, we are happy enough about one thing. At least the winner of the Irish version will not be somebody later discovered to be on steroids. The same can’t be said for some of the supposedly cleaner than clean champions on the BBC’s shortlist.