Katie Taylor is the 2020 Irish Times / Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year
Undisputed world lightweight champion boxer Katie Taylor has been crowned The Irish Times / Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2020. It is the Bray boxer’s fifth time to win the award and underlines her status as an Irish and world superstar.
Taylor enjoyed a highly successful 2020, defending her titles against Belgian rival Delfine Persoon and Miriam Gutierrez from Spain. Last year Taylor unified the lightweight division with a somewhat controversial majority decision over Persoon in a high-profile bout at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
In August of this year, she fought Persoon again, this time at Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom HQ in Essex. Once again, the high-quality bout went the distance but this time all three judges gave it to the defending champion, on a score line of 98-93, 96-94, 96-94.
Taylor followed up that decisive victory with a comfortable win over Gutierrez in a mandatory defence of her WBC, IBF, WBO and WBA titles in November.
Accepting the award from her US base in Connecticut, she said it was a privilege and a great honour to be recognised in this way.
She told Des Cahill that turning professional had been beyond her wildest dreams.
“These have definitely been the most enjoyable few years of my whole career and this is coming after my lowest point as well, the Rio Olympics, so it really has been an amazing few years.”
She was also asked if taking on tough fights – with their inherent greater risk – made her nervous.
“No, I think you have to risk failure to be actually great at any sport, in any part of life really. I think the biggest failure in life is actually not risking failure. You have to go and take that risk. To be great at any sport you have to do that, you have to step out and that’s how anyone becomes great really. And yeah I want to be the greatest of all time. I want to be the best. In order to do that you have to take on the best fighters in the world.”
When it was put to her that money didn’t motivate her she said: “Obviously I want to make the most I can out of the sport, but it’s all about legacy for myself. I just want to make history in my sport. I want to continue to break boundaries and that’s what it’s always been about for me. I’m always willing to take pay cuts if need be to make the big fights,” she said before joking “I shouldn’t be saying that out loud.”
And she had this to say about her work ethic and the sacrifices she makes.
“I think the difference between the good athletes and the great athletes is that the great athletes are always in the gym, constantly working on their craft . . . I actually love being in the gym. The biggest sacrifice is being away from family all year around, being out here in Connecticut. I have got a great life but you have to make sacrifices to reach your destiny. ”
This is the 17th year of the awards and the boxer was among 12 monthly award winners nominated for the 2020 title. Other monthly winners included last year’s overall winner, rower Sanita Puspure, jockey Rachael Blackmore, runner Ciara Mageean and soccer player Diane Caldwell.
As sporting activities were put on hold due for several months due to Covid-19, the organisers decided to honour several sportswomen for their inspirational contributions to the wider community this year.
The three award winners who were honoured in this way were boxer Kellie Harrington, who led efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus on the frontline by returning to her previous job in St Vincent’s hospital in Fairview, Gaelic footballer Orlagh Farmer who spent lockdown devising instructive and fun programmes aimed at encouraging young girls to continue playing sport and runner Gina Akpe-Moses for being a powerful voice on the issue of racism.
Outstanding Contribution to Sport 2020 Award
Former soccer international star Olivia O’Toole, the most capped Irish women’s international soccer player of all time, was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Sport 2020 Award.
O’Toole, who represented her country 130 times in a career which stretched from 1991 to 2009, is also Ireland’s record goal scorer at women’s international level with 54 goals.
She was Ireland’s all time goal scorer – starting with the winner on her debut against Spain in Seville - until Robbie Keane surpassed her with 68.
As a youngster she played with Sheriff Street Boys, Raheny United and Drumcondra Ladies, before going on to win eight FAI cups and nine league titles with several clubs, including Blacklion, Castle Rovers, Shamrock Rovers and Raheny.
The 49-year-old, who is a Recreations Officer with Dublin City Council, grew up in Sherriff Street in the 1980’s. She said previously that while the people of the area are fantastic, it wasn’t a happy place back then due to the heroin issue which affected many of her friends and family. She has always credited football with providing her with an escape route from those issues.
At the ceremony presentation, Katie Taylor, a former teammate of O’Toole, described her as the best player she ever played with and the best player we are ever going to see.
“When I came onto the team not alone was she a fantastic player, she was one of the greatest encouragers as well for the young players coming up. For myself, I was 17 or 18 coming into the senior team and she was the one that always encouraged us. Even still to this day she’s always sending me lovely messages after each fight and before each fight. She’s been one of my biggest encouragers over the years and I’m so happy for her that she’s got this award.”
Paying tribute to the 2020 winners, Sports Editor of The Irish Times Malachy Logan said it had to be acknowledged that they overcame a unique set of challenges this year.
“They all had to cope with constraints on training, the use of facilities and limits on travel. Nevertheless, they showed the dedication and resilience that marks them out as outstanding competitors and brilliant role models for the tens of thousands of girls who would like to follow in their footsteps.”
The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD said: “2020 may not have been the sporting year that we anticipated, but we have been very fortunate to witness many memorable achievements from our top sportswomen over the course of the last twelve months. Not only have impressive performances and achievements on the pitch been recognised, but it is important and fitting that a number of contributions off the field of play have also been rewarded.
“Each and every award recipient is an excellent ambassador for their sport and their country and I thank them for their commitment. I would like to acknowledge Sport Ireland and the Irish Times for continuing to recognise the incredible contribution of Irish women in sport. I would like to congratulate all of the monthly winners and also pay tribute to their families and all of the coaches and support teams who have helped them to reach the highest levels of sport.”
The Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Sport, Jack Chambers TD said: “It’s important that our young and aspiring athletes have role models to look up to and today we are honouring twelve such role models who have all excelled in their chosen code. While our top athletes have been keeping us all entertained during these difficult months, there have been great strides made in the number of women and girls participating in sport and physical activity.
“We have seen the gender gap in sports participation narrow to the lowest it has ever been, while the National Governing Bodies of Sport and the Local Sports Partnerships, with the support of Sport Ireland, have been doing fantastic work on the ground to increase and sustain participation at all levels. I congratulate all of today’s winners and look forward to what will hopefully be another excellent year for Irish athletes in 2021.”
Sport Ireland Chairman Kieran Mulvey described the day as one of the best in the Irish sporting calendar. “Today we celebrate all that is positive about sport both on and off the playing field as we honour Ireland’s top sporting talent. While many of our sporting arenas have unfortunately remained idle for much of the year, we have been lucky that our top athletes have been able to continue their training and competition.”
“Through their performances and contributions, this group of individuals has given the nation a real lift in the uncertain year that was 2020 and for that we thank them dearly. I congratulate each of the monthly award winners on their achievements and wish them well for what will hopefully be a year filled with sporting action in 2021.”