Friday 9 December 2016

'On a week when one national sporting icon left centre stage another has arrived'

Sean McGoldrick in Doha

Published 15/10/2015 | 11:31

Michael Conlan celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Michael Conlan celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

A Belfast boy by birth and nature, newly crowned World bantamweight champion, Michael Conlan has some Dublin blood coursing through his veins as well. His father, John is a native of Drimnagh and boxed with the local club during his teenage years.

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Later he moved to Belfast where he married a local girl Teresa and the couple raised three sons, James (Jamie), Brendan and Michael. As a family they liked to sit down and watch boxing on television.

As a 12 year Michael remembers watching the boxing at the Athens Olympics. From then on he wanted to emulate the likes of Amir Khan and Andy Lee, who was Ireland's only boxer in Athens. How times have changed!

John Conlan – who now works with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association as a coach – brought his three sons to the St John Bosco Boxing club on the Falls Road, where the careers of Olympians Freddie Gilroy, Sean McCaffrey and Martin Quinn had been forged.

Right from the start of his career Michael looked a special talent. His first big overseas trip was to Pune in India where as a 16 year old he represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Youth Games. He ended up losing to a Kenyan in his medal fight.

He was a cocky youngster. After Paddy Barnes won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics Conlan, who was just seventeen at the time, put the word out that he didn't rate Barnes who hailed from the New Lodge area of North Belfast that he fancied his chances against him in the ring.

Michael Conlan celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Michael Conlan celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, kisses coach Billy Walsh after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, left, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Murodjon Akhmadaliev, right, Uzbekistan, exchanges punches with Michael Conlan, Ireland, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, right, Ireland, exchanges punches with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, during their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, falls to the canvas during his fight against Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
14 October 2015; Michael Conlan, Ireland, celebrates with his gold medal after beating Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Bantamweight 56kg Final bout. AIBA World Boxing Championships, Semi-Finals. Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

The following year Conlan got an opportunity to test his theory when the pair clashed in a spar. In ''Punching Above Weight' a recent published book chronicling the exploits of Irish boxers at the Olympics Conlan recalled that happened.

“Paddy was trying to talk to me when I came into the gym but I wouldn't look at him I was so focussed. We got into the ring and he battered me. He just wouldn't stop punching me. “ They had been soul mates since.

On his initial entry into the senior ranks Conlan received leg up from his older brother Jamie, now a professional boxer. Michael defeated Ruairi Dalton – who had beaten Jamie in the final the previous year. Jamie then conceded a walk-over to his kid brother so avoid a sibling showdown in the final.

There were disappointments in the early days as well. Conlan was distaught when he lost to seasoned international Conor Ahern in the semi-final of the 2010 Elite championships despite leading by ten points going into the final round.

But one important man was impressed by Conlan's performance despite his meltdown in the third round. Irish coach Zaur Antia visited the changing rooms in the National Stadium afterwards and invited Conlan to train with the High Performance Unit in Dublin.

Conlan didn't immediately accept the invitation and travelled instead with an Ulster team to the US where he won his three fights. Soon afterwards he received his first international call-up for what turned out to a bizarre international against Italy which was staged in the Donegal Celtic Sports and Social Club in west Belfast.

Back then Italy was one of the leading European nations in boxing having won two gold medals at the previous World championships in Milan in September 2009. They were seriously miffed when Ireland beat them 7-5 in the first of two internationals in Dublin.

Their fortunes didn't improve in Belfast. Conlan made a dream debut in front of his peers, dropping the highly rated Italian flyweight Vincenzo Picardi, who had won medals at Olympic, world and European level. When their pin up hero Domenico Valentino, the 2009 AIBA World Boxer of the Year, was beaten for the second time in 48 hours the Italian had enough and stormed off with seven bouts still pending.

Even though Conlan lost in the first round of the 2010 Commonwealth Games he starting training full time with the HPU in Dublin. A significant turning point in his career came in February 2011 when he endured a shock 6-3 loss to Declan Milligan in the Ulster final.

“All the papers were saying that the result was a disgrace. I told every reporter that night that I was going down to Dublin the following week to win the Elite title,” recalled Conlan. He didn't dare call himself Mystic Mick back then but he did as he promised and hasn't lost a fight on Irish soil since.

Indeed, he has lost on only eight occasions since while chalking up 58 wins – a strike rate of almost 88% and the medals have flowed: Olympic bronze in 2012, European silver in 2013, Commonwealth Gold (2014), European Gold (2015) and finally the big one World Gold in Doha last night.

Three weeks shy of his 24th birthday he has become Ireland's most decorated ever male amatuer boxer and the first to win a gold medal at the Elite World championship. Rio beckons next summer and beyond that a career in the professional ranks.

So on a week when one national sporting icon Paul O'Connell left centre stage another arrived. Hail Michael Conlan, Ireland's newest global sports star.

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