Katie Taylor named Ireland’s most admired sports star for third year in row

Brian O’Driscoll and Rory McIlroy trail boxing champion in poll

Katie Taylor has landed her fair share of uppercuts in boxing rings around the globe. Now comes confirmation that she can deliver a knockout blow in the gender battle: the Bray woman is the dominant Irish sporting figure in the latest annual PSG Sponsorship "Sports Sentiment Index" for 2014, with 34 per cent of those surveyed placing the five-time world champion as their most admired athlete.

It is the third successive year that Taylor has emerged as the nation’s most admired sportsperson, her growth in popularity – up to 34 per cent from 25 per cent a year ago – building momentum from when she captured an Olympic gold medal in 2012. Taylor trailed behind Brian O’Driscoll and Rory McIlroy in a similar category in the 2011 index, at which point she accounted for 13 per cent. Her star has risen appreciably.

The survey by PSG Sponsorship and Ignite Research across the State is a comprehensive representative survey with quotas on gender, region, age and social class and was conducted in November – admittedly good timing for Taylor, who outpointed Azerbaijan’s Yana Allekseevana in the lightweight world championship final in South Korea that month.

That win by Taylor was also seen as the “greatest achievement” in Irish sport in 2014, coming in ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations success and McIlroy’s accomplishment of winning back-to-back Majors at the British Open and the US PGA.


Hearts and minds

Further evidence that Taylor has ingrained herself in the hearts and minds of the Irish sporting public is that she is rated the most “admired female sports star” by 71 per cent of those surveyed, up from 56 per cent last year. Taylor’s winning of a fifth world title is also recognised as the “most iconic” moment in Irish sport of the past year, coming in ahead of O’Driscoll’s last game for Ireland.

An indication of Taylor’s immersion into the Irish sporting psyche can be seen from comparison with her pre-Olympics heroics and on-going dominance in world championships.

Prior to that Olympic gold, Taylor’s achievement in 2011 of winning a fifth European boxing title was viewed as the finest sporting achievement from an Irish athlete that year by just 6.6 per cent: she trailed in sixth place, with Ireland qualifying for the Euro 2012 finals recognised as the top achievement (23.7 per cent) on that occasion.

Whilst Taylor’s status as the most admired current Irish sportsperson has strengthened, the survey reveals a different scenario for the world’s number one golfer McIlroy. In that 2011 index, McIlroy was second only to O’Driscoll – then at the height of his popularity – and placed ahead of Taylor. On that occasion, O’Driscoll was tops with 16.7 per cent, with McIlroy in close pursuit on 16.3 per cent.

In the 2014 index, albeit with the questioning changed from “greatest” to “most admired”, McIlroy – after a stellar season in which he captured two Majors, played a significant part in Europe’s Ryder Cup success, cemented his position atop the world rankings and committed to representing Ireland in the 2016 Olympics – saw his share fall significantly to just six per cent. It should be pointed out that the index is a survey conducted in Republic of Ireland, and does not include Northern Ireland.

Mass appeal

According to the index, soccer is considered the “favourite” sport by 24 per cent of those surveyed, ahead of Gaelic Games (17 per cent) and rugby (16 per cent).

Yet, that mass appeal for soccer isn’t generally reflected when it comes to the most anticipated sporting event in the year ahead, with 25 per cent nominating the Rugby World Cup.

The influence of social media can also be gauged from the public awareness of Stephanie Roche, whose nomination by FIFA for the Puskás Award – after her wonder goal for Peamount went viral – has seen her acknowledged by seven per cent as the Irish female sportswomen they most admired. Roche garnered only one per cent acknowledgement in the same category a year ago.

The survey also indicates an increased awareness of non-traditional sports, with Conor McGregor’s emergence in mixed martial arts registering with three per cent of those surveyed as the greatest Irish sporting achievement for 2014. Some way behind Taylor, but – still – an indicator that the UFC fighter is now on people’s radar.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times