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Boxing: It all ends in tears of joy for Taylor and Flynn

THESE are tough young men, gladiators in a fierce and often brutal world of combat.

Josh Taylor and Charlie Flynn celebrate after winning gold   Photograph: Colin Mearns
Josh Taylor and Charlie Flynn celebrate after winning gold Photograph: Colin Mearns

The art of speaking publicly about their emotions is not something taught in their restrictive, disciplined day-to-day routines of training, sleeping and training again. It does not come easily. Their talking tends to be done with their fists.

Home fans have lived with them through these many days of blood and sweat, and as the respective journeys of Charlie Flynn and Josh Taylor ended in tears of joy on a golden afternoon yesterday, that affinity only grew.

Taylor wept on the podium at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi four years ago after losing the final at lightweight to England's Thomas Stalker. The sight of him crying again - this time with sheer, unadulterated exultation - as an 11,000-strong choir helped him through the national anthem in the wake of his unanimous points win over Junias Jonas of Namibia at light-welterweight, must go down as one of the iconic moments of Glasgow 2014.

Flynn's appearance on the medal rostrum inside the mini-coliseum of The Hydro, meanwhile, was surely the most touching.

This flame-haired little firework has blazed his way through the lightweight competition, gathering scalps for fun and rat-tat-tatting out a never-ending stream of post-fight quotes that Muhammad Ali would be proud of.

His display against Joe Fitzpatrick on the biggest day of his life was just sublime. The Northern Irishman missed with his first meaningful punch, a swinging left, and would be chasing shadows for most of the next eight minutes and 57 seconds as the 20-year-old from Newarthill, near Motherwell, went through his full repertoire on the way to a unanimous points victory.

Flynn had spent the previous eight days tearing up every reputation in front of him. When Dick McTaggart - the former Olympic and Commonwealth lightweight champion and an eternal, shimmering example to all amateur fighters - appeared in the ring to present his gold, however, the most beautiful side of this most noble sport unfolded before us.

Flynn had taken a private moment at the end of his fight to put his arms on the ropes and look down at the canvas. When he resurfaced to hug his coaches Mike Keane and Craig McEvoy in the corner, the emotions swelling with such force within him were so evidently close to spilling over.

At the moment McTaggart placed that gold medal around Flynn's neck to the cheers of an adoring public, he rested his head on McTaggart's shoulder and buried his face deep into the fabric of his blue blazer for longer than anyone expected.

It was a living embodiment of the reverence that exists between those most central to The Hardest Game, the ones who put on the gloves, take the blows and lay everything on the line. Flynn claims he didn't crack, but close inspection of McTaggart's jacket for the tracks of his tears might have told a different story.

"I nearly started greetin', but I managed to hold it together," Flynn said. "I'm a big tough boxer. I had to.

"I had my head on his shoulder and I was just telling him I have all the respect in the world for him because he is one of the best boxers that's ever lived.

"Dick McTaggart is the man. He is Scottish boxing and was the first one to do everything. For him to present me with my medal is unbelievable.

"I hope all of Scotland is proud of me now too."

For Taylor, this was, unquestionably, a day of redemption and joy that could not be confined. References to what happened in India in 2010, as much as the 23-year-old southpaw from Prestonpans insists the past cannot colour the present, were inevitable and necessary.

"Those were tears of joy and not tears of disappointment this time, thank God," said Taylor, when asked about welling up as his gold medal rested proudly against his white Team Scotland tracksuit.

"I tried to sing the national anthem word-for-word, but I could only sing it in bits because I would have broken down with tears, happiness and emotion. My body feels numb. I just can't believe it.

"I imagined it would be amazing with everybody singing, but that was just surreal. It was a thousand times better than I expected.

"It is a dream come true. I have boxed better than I ever in this tournament. I have had a few world- class performances."

Taylor won every round on every card yesterday. Two up going into the final three minutes after producing the sharper work, he only had to stay on his feet to win, but still ended up, perhaps unadvisedly, trading blows with a talented opponent until the end.

His victory, coupled with Flynn's, completes a memorable Games for Team Scotland's pugilistic division. It is the first time since 1962 that the squad has won two golds at the Commonwealths and only the fifth time in history. Bronze medals for Reece McFadden at flyweight and Stephen Lavelle at heavyweight have helped surpass expectations.

Taylor is now off on a holiday to Ibiza with his colleagues from the Team GB Podium Squad. For Flynn, it is back to the Silverburn area of Newarthill, with some major decisions to make when the celebrations subside.

"I don't know what reception I'll get," grinned this cheekiest of chappies. "It will probably be: 'Get the Buckie oot, man!'

"I'm only kidding. It will be great. An event like this brings everybody together. This is a life-changing one. I just have to see what doors it opens up."

Make no mistake, Flynn's triumph is a story of the underdog. He works part-time for Royal Mail at the sorting office in Wishaw. He has no funding whatsoever in an amateur world being shaped ever more by money.

The professional game will be interested in luring this most marketable character, although he does look with some longing at the Olympics in Rio in two years' time. No wonder, given the way he took the handsomely-funded Welshman Joe Cordina apart in his semi-final.

"It would be a good time to go pro," he said. "I need funding. I need to start looking after myself, but the Olympics are round the corner, so I don't know.

"At the moment, I am just scraping through, working part-time and fighting boys who are all full-time."

Flynn, who bellowed "the mailman delivers" at the crowd in the wake of his win, will take pleasure in showing his medal to his workmates this week too.

Without the support of Royal Mail, the paid leave and the training kit they have given him, he would probably have walked away from the ring months ago and that is quite some indictment of how such special sporting talent can still be treated in this country.

"Back in January, I was struggling with work and training," he said. "I wasn't boxing well. I was ready to pack it in. My dad, Thomas, told me to get back for the Scottish Championships and I really had to pull myself together mentally and physically. The sacrifices he has made with my mum, Mary, have been amazing."

Sacrifice is something Taylor knows all too much about as well. Success does not come easy for the East Lothian man.

"I give up my whole life for this game," he explained. "Everything goes on hold for boxing for years at a time.

"I wouldn't change it for the world, though. I would do it 1000 times over because this medal is better than anything in the world."

Will Taylor resist the lure of the professional ranks to go for gold in Rio? "Possibly," he said. And not much else. He wanted to enjoy the moment.

With that, it is probably best to leave the final word on Flynn and Taylor's achievements to the man who earned Olympic and Commonwealth gold medals in Melbourne in 1956 and Cardiff two years later.

"It was fantastic," said McTaggart. "It brought the house down, didn't it? I am very, very proud of them."

Aren't we all, Dick? Aren't we all?

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