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Gráinne Walsh: How Katie Taylor changed her dreams

“It’s not just me she’s had a massive effect on. It’s women everywhere.

“And it’s not even women – it’s just people in sport. She’s set the bar so high and she’s encouraged a lot of people to take that first step.”

Katie Taylor needs no introduction to sports fans.

The two-weight World Champion is a boxing pioneer, transcends her sport in ways few can match and has inspired thousands of people.

One of those thousands was a 16-year-old Shamrock Rovers footballer who dreamt of playing for Arsenal.

Four years after meeting Taylor, that footballer was boxing on the same team as her.

“That was the childhood dream to be honest,” says Gráinne Walsh – now 24 – on her footballing career.

“Most of the people that I box now have their families involved – their parents, grandparents, uncles, everyone.

“Everyone has been fighting for years so it’s kind of a natural progression for them to get into boxing.

“But, for me, it was seeing Katie Taylor when I was growing up playing football and then I just followed her from football into the boxing. I never really had the courage to try it to be honest.

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“I never thought I’d be any good, so soccer was just what I knew. It came in 2012 when she came home from the World Championships after winning her fifth world title.

“She was coming down to open the club that was literally across the road from my house – she was coming to cut the ribbon and there were posters all over the town.

“I was obviously a superfan back then and it was the first summer where I wasn’t playing in a summer soccer league either.

“I was like ‘right, I’m going to show my face here, maybe train for a couple of weeks, keep my fitness up and when the soccer season comes back, I’ll bin off the boxing and go back to playing soccer’.

“That did happen, but I never binned off the boxing. It just continued and it was a natural progression to keep going with it.

“I loved it and everything so meeting Katie Taylor gave me the push I needed to join the club and take that first step.

“I’ve obviously got a lot to thank her for and soccer was the dream back then. I wanted to move to England and play for Arsenal – that was the dream as a kid – but it’s quickly turned around.

“Here I am, 24, no soccer at all now.”

“She’s set the bar so high and she’s encouraged a lot of people to take that first step”


Following that all important first meeting with Taylor, the Cristiano Ronaldo posters that had previously adorned the walls of Gráinne’s bedroom were replaced with images of her new icon.

But not everyone gets the chance to eventually be on the same team as their sporting hero, and the London 2012 Lightweight Champion is well aware of the influence she has had on the 24-year-old fighter.

“We used to joke about that when we were on the team and – oh my God it was so embarrassing – when we were coming back from Kazakhstan, she had a bronze medal and I hadn’t medalled,” Gráinne explains.

“But we were coming through the airport and my ma and da, and my family, were more excited to see Katie coming home than they were their own daughter! They ended up meeting Katie and got a photo with her.

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“Then my ma was like ‘oh Katie, you’d want to see Gráinne’s room with all the posters of you in the room.’

“I literally was mortified. You know what I mean when your ma just steps in with a comment so I’m sure Katie knows.

“It’s not just me she’s had a massive effect on. It’s women everywhere.

“And it’s not even women – it’s just people in sport. She’s set the bar so high and she’s encouraged a lot of people to take that first step.”

“I was obviously devastated about the whole thing”


Gráinne’s own boxing career has rapidly built up speed, particularly after winning a bronze medal at the European Games in Minsk last year.

While she may previously have dreamt of turning out for Arsenal, the new dream was centred on qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

But, in January, that dream suffered a significant blow when Gráinne ruptured the ligament in her right thumb – her first serious injury ever.

That put her dream in serious doubt, but then came the coronavirus crisis.

Few would have been happy about Tokyo 2020 becoming Tokyo 2021 but, in Gráinne’s case, she is incredibly thankful for the chance to keep her dream alive.

“I was obviously devastated about the whole thing,” she says.

“To come back from that, when I was fit and ready for competition, to being in surgery and not able to do anything was really tough for the first couple of weeks.

“I got back to doing more left-handed work, so it was kind of a blessing in disguise in that sense.

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“My left hand got really strong and everything but, then again, I was leaving my right hand behind.

“I didn’t really know, and it was all up in the air – would I be ready to come back for the second qualifier if I get the chance?

“It would have been a rushed process but obviously now I’m thankful that the Olympics is postponed because it has given me that extra time to work on the smaller things and get my hand right again. I’ll be able to do things 100 per cent right.”

She continues: “It’s just such a big thing. The Olympics only happens every four years, it’s the pinnacle of sport, there’s so much money and time invested that, to cancel it, there needs to be something serious.

“No one really knew the severity of the coronavirus until everything started getting closed down. I knew when the pubs were closed in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day we were in trouble!

“People are seeing it as half glass full, rather than half glass empty, so everyone is just working on smaller things and getting ready for hopefully an Olympics next year.”

“When you’re boxing, people only see your arm at the end getting raised or not”

It’s been quite the journey over the last eight years for Gráinne, but there’s still plenty more to come in the future.

And if she has learned anything about herself in that time it’s the importance of dedicated work and mentality.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself is that hard work and discipline pay off,” she says.

“When you are in soccer there’s 10 other people on the team that you have to depend on and expect to have the same work ethic as yourself.

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“I just think boxing appealed to me more with the self-discipline, the hard work on your own that no one sees.

“When you’re boxing, people only see your arm at the end getting raised or not, whereas there is so much that goes with that.

“Hard work and everything really pays off, being self-disciplined and having people believe in you.

“Believing in yourself is a massive thing as well. Mentality in boxing is probably the biggest thing.

“You can train until the cows come home but if you don’t have the bottle – and in your mind you’re not stable going into a ring – then you won’t be able to show the hard work that you’ve done.”

Interview: Alasdair Hooper

Words: Alasdair Hooper

Image credits: With thanks to Gráinne Walsh

All music in this episode is courtesy of Otis McDonald.

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