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Irish only have eyes for Katie Taylor in Olympic boxing match

Complete coverage: London Olympics
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Updated: August 9, 2012 5:45PM

LONDON -- The fans were screaming and stomping their feet. Of course they were. It was 45 minutes before Katie Taylor was to enter the ring, and you can never start cheering too soon.

Were the Irish excited? Oh, just a bit.

Their girl would be competing for the first gold medal for Ireland in these Olympics. They didn’t come to see a boxing match. They came to see the Irish take over the world for a day.

In the 30 years I’ve been a sportswriter, I have never heard a louder crowd over a sustained period.

If there were fans of Taylor’s Russian opponent, Sofya Ochigava, they were in hiding Thursday.

Twenty minutes before the lightweight bout began, the announcer introduced former Irish boxer Barry McGuigan, a national hero. I have no idea what he said to the crowd. It was pandemonium. Then it got louder.

The crowd stomped some more for Great Britain’s Nicola Adams, who was competing in the flyweight final in the preceding bout, and even that sounded like a steam-driven freight train. The seats literally shook. The people chanted “Ni-co-la, Ni-co-la’’ as if she were one of their own.

But they wanted Taylor, a four-time world champion. They got her. It was a tough fight, certainly a tougher fight than the crowd wanted. Ochigava didn’t seem to understand that she was supposed to be the afternoon’s sacrifice. She landed enough punches to be down only 7-5 after three rounds.

When Taylor was announced as the winner, in this, the first Olympic boxing competition for women, she dropped to her knees and cried. I believe an entire country followed her lead. Back in Ireland, the world ceased to rotate for the amount of time it takes for a four-round Olympic fight to be completed.

“The whole place has literally came to a stop,’’ McGuigan said. “I know it broke (TV) records. It certainly broke decibel records here.’’

Graham Kidd was wearing an Irish flag like a cape over a Notre Dame Fighting Irish T-shirt. He said he had forgot to bring something green to wear and bought the shirt at the airport. We’ll allow it.

I asked him whether it would it matter what sport and what Irish athlete it was that he had come to cheer.

“Probably not, no,’’ said Graham Kidd, of Badenalstown, County Carlow. “Everyone in Ireland loves a winner. We’re a small country, and anything that we’re good at, everybody jumps on the bandwagon.’’

He and the other Irish who attended Thursday’s bout will always have the memory of Taylor running around the outside of the ring, her own Irish flag fluttering behind her and a gold medal around her neck.

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was in attendance Thursday. It might be the first and last time she’s not the most popular Kate in a building. Unless she travels to Ireland.

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