Boxing

These Women Are Changing The Conversation About Sport In This Country

These Women Are Changing The Conversation About Sport In This Country

Listen closely and you can hear it: the sound of the conversation around women and sport in this country is changing. It was especially noticeable over the last 24 hours.

Saturday evening in Manchester, Katie Taylor did what Katie Taylor does. She was brutal and efficient in beating Christina Linardatou in a unanimous decision. Just because it was routine doesn't make it less extraordinary. An Irish boxer headlined a Match Room card and became the third Irish fighter ever to win belts in two divisions.

Then last night in Donnybrook, the Irish women's hockey team did what no other hockey team in this country had ever done before and qualified for the Olympics. Along the way they shrugged off history and a creeping fear that that Irish hockey was fated to lose again in penalties to Canada.

On top of that Mayo's Sinead Diver finished fifth in the women's ranks in the NYC Marathon while the FAI Cup final between Wexford Youths and Cork City was full of drama and intrigue. It was a decent 24 hours for mná na hEireann.

But we want to return to Katie and the hockey team, because of the extraordinary impact they're having on the nation and the conversation we're having around sports. For a long time, sport was viewed through a curious binary. Good days for Irish women on the pitch or track  - excluding Sonia - were viewed largely through the prism of 'women's sport'. Good days for Irish men, on the other hand, were good days for 'Irish sport'.

These women are changing that.

During her amateur career, Taylor was discussed mostly in the context of 'women's boxing' and her place in it. This makes sense, since she basically had to invent boxing as an Olympics sport for women on her own. Yet over the course of her unbeaten fifteen fight professional career, where she has unified the lightweight title and picked up the light welterweight title as well, Taylor has changed the conversation around her. She now joins Steve Collins and Carl Frampton as the only Irish boxers to hold world titles in two weight classes. There aren't many Irish boxers headlining cards at the Manchester Arena these days, either (it's odd really that the media doesn't make a bigger deal of this). The 33-year-old is so dominant at her job, the only debates about her place in the Irish sporting pantheon worth having any more are a) is she's Ireland's greatest-ever boxer and b) is she Ireland's greatest-ever sportsperson.

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For the hockey team, last night's result was so titanic because Irish sporting history was made on that blue pitch, in front of that huge crowd of 6,317. The hockey team are beloved after their World Cup rampage in 2018. They went a step further and became the first Irish team - male or female - to reach the Olympics last night. Because of the World Cup run, and hockey's unique place in the sporting conversation, they're not the Irish women's hockey team. They're the Irish hockey team.  They've again proved to many hockey agnostics that the sport is captivating and rugged. The steely poise and courage displayed over the last two days, but especially during those penalties, are some of the finest Irish sporting virtues.

We hope there are Olympics medals awaiting the hockey team and more belts to be added to Taylor's trophy cabinet. Regardless, they have changed the way people think and talk about sport in this country, and that's no small feat.

Donny Mahoney

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