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Thursday 19 October 2017

It will be a long time before we have another golden age

Pete Taylor talks to Eamon Carr about Katie, the performance of the Irish boxers in Rio, his break from the IABA and how he has rediscovered his love for the sport

Pete Taylor pictured for Eamon Carr interview. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Pete Taylor pictured for Eamon Carr interview. Photo: Gerry Mooney

It was early last year that we learned Pete Taylor was no longer coaching his daughter Katie.

"He's taking a bit of a break," explained the Olympic gold medal winner just weeks ahead of a qualifying tournament for Rio.

In the corner for both Katie and Adam Nolan at the London Games in 2012, Pete wasn't part of the IABA coaching staff for Rio.

As the Irish media focussed on the departure of Billy Walsh for America, Pete was working on plans to open a cafe, KO Fit Food, in Bray.

It seemed to be forgotten that if it wasn't for the pioneering work of Pete and Katie, it's unlikely women's boxing would ever have been included in the Olympic Games.

In 2007, when Katie was invited to give a demonstration to Olympic boxing officials at the World Championships in Chicago, she stopped her opponent in the first round.

"They were going mad, saying, "Settle down," laughs Pete. "But it was a struggle back then just to keep Katie boxing."

It's still a case of "house private" when it comes to the story behind the break between boxer and coach that saw Katie go to Rio without Pete in her corner.

But with his daughter now lighting up the professional scene on the books of Eddie Hearns' Matchroom, I sense Pete, ever the pragmatic coach, is concerned that the hype and ballyhoo will deflect from the work at hand.

When I mention that Katie seems to be throwing an impressive volume of punches in her pro fights, the seasoned coach stops me.

"Her style hasn't changed that much," he points out. "She's a little bit more aggressive because now you don't have to worry about point scoring. But the quality of her opponents, and this is like with Michael Conlan, is nothing compared to the quality she was boxing as an amateur."

"As an amateur, everyone you box is a champion of their country," he stresses. "And with Michael and Katie, the people they've been putting them in with, it's nearly disrespectful.

"When you're in with these people, you can look great," he cautions. "Essentially, they're getting paid to get beaten up. Michael and Katie had been boxing elite boxers at the highest level."

Pete's concern is obvious. "It's hard to judge it," he shrugs. "Even the last opponent, at 5-0, hadn't boxed outside the gym or was never a national champion. That's not boxing. Eventually they've got to be matched. That's when you can say, "You've improved."

"You can pad somebody's record too much and all of a sudden they meet a challenge and they're not ready for it," he warns. "Fights have to be more competitive."

Having coached his daughter (right) since she was ten through to five World titles, six European titles and an Olympic gold medal, there can be no under-estimating the frustration and disappointment Pete still feels at Katie's defeat in her first bout at the Olympics in Rio.

"If you were to look at the boxers who went to Rio, you'd say, "What a team," says Pete. "But everyone was wrecked going into the tournament. Physically and emotionally. It did matter what coaches were in place. It proved it in the end because you can overtrain these people. Look at how many of them have left. It speaks volumes that Michael Conlan, Katie, David Oliver and Paddy Barnes, who've given their lives to amateur boxing, have turned over now."

Pete's sense of exasperation is seismic.

Golden era

"It was a golden era of boxing," he declares. "It will be a long time before that will be repeated.

The mistake with the IABA, and the public, is that they took for granted the medals they were winning. Everywhere they went they were winning medals. So they thought, "This must be easy."

But now we're not winning medals. It's not easy. And that's proven."

Can Taylor explain what went wrong?

"At that level, everyone is brilliant," says the experienced coach. "It's tight. So coaches can make the one percent difference in performance, the difference between winning and losing. Every fight has only one or two percent in the difference. Who's in the corner matters so much."

"And obviously the scandal that happened over there (Michael O'Reilly's failed drugs test) didn't help as well," he adds.

"At the top level, it's the one per cent that counts if you want to be the best," he says summing up. "There's new coaching staff in place now but the Association itself is in disarray."

Now the man who created the platform for women's boxing in Ireland and masterminded his daughter's path to an Olympic gold medal, is back. Reenergised, Pete is relishing new challenges.

This time last year, it looked like he might have lost his appetite for boxing.

"I did for a while," he admits. "But with David Oliver Joyce coming back, it's great training. It fans the flame again. You're looking forward to the coaching with him every time because he's so keen. He wants to learn. He wants to push on. His natural enthusiasm rubs off on you."

David Oliver got to the last sixteen in the Rio Games but failed to medal.

"He's not boxed since Rio," says Pete. "But, even though he was sick of boxing, he carried on training once a day."

Joyce became the fourth member of Ireland's Rio 2016 team to turn professional when he joined Matthew Macklin's MTK promotions company last month and asked Pete Taylor to coach him.

Motivated

"Everyone forgets that he beat Carl Frampton four out of five," enthuses Pete. "He's mixed with the best in the world at amateur level. He's highly motivated."

London Olympian Adam Nolan, who retired from boxing last year, has also returned to the gym with Taylor.

"He's not got a lot of mileage on the clock," insists Pete. "People have been on to him. There are possibilities there for him. He won't go back to the amateur scene. What's the point? He's not going to get on funding. He's put enough free time into it. It could be time for him to earn some money out of it. Adam is a natural athlete."

On the day of our interview, Pete's club on Bray harbour is buzzing and bursting with talent. He's coaching young women who are winning National amateur titles as well as eager young men and seasoned pros like heavyweight Sean "Big Sexy" Turner.

"I'm looking forward to the future with Davy and Sean," he says. "Hopefully Adam will turn over,. He's fresh. With the experience of London behind him, if he'd got to Rio, I think he'd have caused a lot of problems."

It's a long way from the time when Pete fought tooth and nail for permission to have his daughter box in competitions.

"I had her boxing boys in competitions because she was the only girl boxing," he recalls. "I'd been on to the Stadium every day of the week trying to get them on board. Eventually they succumbed and they put her on a show."

Katie's first bout at the National Stadium in 2001 was an auspicious occasion.

"Andy Lee was boxing," recalls Pete. "Katie boxed Alanna Murphy in the Presidential Cup. She was about 5 or 6 kilo lighter than Alanna but we still took the fight. She got Boxer of the Night. She was just 15."

Katie wasn't the only star of the future in action that night.

"Nicola Adams (Olympic gold medalist 2012) boxed Debbie Rodgers, another girl out of my club, who won an EU bronze medal," adds Pete. "Nobody realises that two gold medallists boxed that night."

"Then they put Katie into a Multi Nations tournament with Alannah and she won and that was the start of it," he says. "But they were still totally against it. It was a battle all the time. I was getting into so much trouble over it. But it worked out in the end."

With the conveyor belt of amateur talent that's coming out of his gym now, would Pete consider coaching with the IABA again?

"We're still supplying," he agrees. "But I wouldn't be interested in it at all. They show no loyalty."

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