An Olympic gold, five World Championships and six European Championships – women’s boxing star Katie Taylor knows all about hard work, sacrifice and success. After dominating women’s amateur boxing for so long, winning accolade after accolade, the Irish native turned her attention to the professional ranks last year and now has her sights set on a first professional world title in 2017.
Renowned for her fearless, action-packed style in the ring but her incredibly humble personality outside of it, Taylor is credited with helping raise the profile of women’s boxing in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and beyond. But boxing isn’t the only sport that the Bray fighter has tasted success with; multi-talented Taylor is a former Republic of Ireland football international who earned 18 senior caps between 2006 and 2009.
“Football was a huge part of my life growing up and every time I put on that green jersey of Ireland, it was such a huge honour,” said Taylor, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. “It was always a dream of mine to play for my country and every time I had an international match, it was a very special moment for me, particularly playing in EURO and World Cup qualifiers. Every time I put on that jersey I was just full of pride.”
Extremely sporty as a child, Taylor started playing football as a nine-year-old – two years before donning her first pair of boxing gloves – and was initially forced to join a boys’ team due to the lack of girls’ sides in her local area. Those days have long passed, however, with Taylor herself noticing a significant increase in participation of young female players in Ireland, as well as the development of women’s youth teams.
“I think women’s sport in general has come on leaps in bounds over the years,” Taylor said. “When I first started playing football, there were very few women playing [in Republic of Ireland] at the time. But just looking at the amount of girls playing football up and down the country, I think every town has a women’s team now. It’s also the same with boxing currently, you see a lot more female boxers. Just looking at the progress that women’s sport in general has made over the last decade has been incredible to witness.”
*The Girls in Green *Having featured at U-17 and U-19 level, Taylor made her senior Republic of Ireland debut in 2006 in a FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier against Switzerland. By that stage, the forward was well-experienced in handling the expectation of representing her country, having already fought for Ireland - and claimed her first gold - at the European Amateur Boxing Championships.
“Both sports complemented one another and I was always so used to dealing with the pressure of representing my country at boxing that it helped me mentally going into international matches,” revealed Taylor. “I could transfer qualities from one sport to the other. There’s always the discipline aspect and that will to work hard to succeed that greatly helped me.
“It was difficult for me in the end to try and fit two sports in, though,” Taylor continued. “It was a tough decision to have to step away from football but I knew I just wasn’t competing at a level where I should have been at. I was only really playing three or four football matches a year as the boxing took over and I was competing against girls playing week in, week out.
Looking at the progress that women’s sport in general has made over the last decade has been incredible to witness.
“It was a difficult decision to make as I loved putting on that Ireland jersey and I do miss the camaraderie with my team-mates as well, I made some of my best friends through football. But I know I had to make that decision and boxing was the right choice for me in the end.”
One of those former team-mates of Taylor’s was 2014 FIFA Puskás Award Stephanie Roche, whose sensational strike for Peamount United against Wexford Youths saw her nominated for the goal of the year accolade.
“It was an incredible goal, the technique was perfect and it was a big moment for women’s football,” said Taylor. “I played with Stephanie many times and I’ve seen her score goals like that before on many occasions, but we were lucky that the cameras were there to capture that particular one.
“It was great for the women’s game and the amount of publicity it generated was huge. That’s what women’s football needs – it needs to be in the papers, and the media need to grab hold of these things. It really was incredible to see.”
World title ambitions*
*Now focused solely on her boxing game, Taylor turned professional in 2016 after an amateur career that saw her win a staggering five consecutive World Boxing Championships – and the former forward now has her sights set on a first professional world title in 2017.
“This is a huge year for me,” she said. “Ever since I put on a pair of gloves, I wanted to make history and break down boundaries and be a game-changer, so that’s what I hope to do this year. I’d love to be headlining my own shows in the future and I have big hopes to bring a world title home to Ireland this year. But I have to keep working and striving hard to improve, and take things one step at a time.”
But amidst a busy and meticulous training schedule, Taylor still sets time aside to follow the women’s game closely.
“I still keep up to date with all the matches for sure, especially when Ireland are playing, and I still keep in touch with all the girls. Any time when there are local games on, I try and get to the matches. I also still enjoy watching teams like USA, Japan and England, they’re incredible to watch.”