Sunday 28 May 2017

Conlan grows into his role as father figure

No 1 seed revels in responsibility but old habits remain despite unanimous decision

Michael Conlan of Ireland celebrates defeating Aram Avagyan of Armenia following their Bantamweight preliminary round of 16 bout. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Conlan of Ireland celebrates defeating Aram Avagyan of Armenia following their Bantamweight preliminary round of 16 bout. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Conlan's daughter Luisne pictured with his mother Teresa and partner Shauna ahead of his bout yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Conlan moves in to land another punch on Aram Avagyan of Armenia yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Just as the bell to signal the start of Michael Conlan's Rio Olympic journey was about to toll a live picture of his daughter, Luisne was flashed up on the giant TV monitor in Pavillon 6 of the Riocentro.

Wearing a t-shirt which bore the message 'Good Luck Daddy', Luisne, her mother Shauna and Michael's brother Jamie were among the most interested spectators in the audience. The crowd erupted when the picture appeared and Michael's father John - who was working ringside - simply told his son: 'This is what we're here for.'

For Conlan, the moment broke the tension. "It was probably one of the best things I've ever experienced going into a boxing ring. It's up there with the Irish fans in Doha (at last year's World championships) when I was coming out.

"Coming out and seeing my daughter and she had her arms out like the way I did on the tee-shirt and she was lying with her head back. It was amazing. It kind of took the seriousness away from me. I just started laughing and was happy going into the ring."

What transpired during the next 12 minutes didn't altogether please the 2015 World Champion, though he still secured a unanimous 3-0 win even though one judge mysteriously gave the last round to his opponent, 23-year-old Aram Avagyan from Armenia.

"It was probably one of my worst performances in recent times. I got dragged into a war. I've been waiting out here since July 19, it has been a long, long time.

Read More: Conlan restores pride as his father slams disgraced O'Reilly

"People are saying there's obviously a lot of pressure on me but I thrive in those situations and the fact that people are raising their hopes of me. That didn't bother me, it was just the waiting around, everybody fighting and me having to wait.

"I wanted to box him today. I got dragged into a war which was pretty stupid by me but I knew I could outfight him. I knew I could outbox him when I needed too.

"My head said outbox him, my legs said fight him, so I had to just go with the legs instead of the head this time," he acknowledged.

Performance

This performance won't suffice on Tuesday in the quarter-final against the Russian Vladimir Nikitin who beat Conlan in the quarter-finals of the 2013 World championship is Almaty. But the Irishman had only made the move up to bantamweight six days earlier.

Traditionally, Conlan is a slow starter in championship tournaments. Last October in Doha, he actually lost the first round of his first bout before ultimately securing the gold medal. Furthermore, for a variety of reasons he has been out of the ring for an extended period.

Since winning the gold medal in the 56kg weight division in Doha, his only competitive fight was in the Socikas Invitational tournament in Lithuania last May and that had to be aborted after Conlan (inset) suffered a facial cut which required stitches after a clash of heads.

The Belfast man showed signs of ring rustiness in the opening round as his timing was repeatedly off the mark. "If that was his best performance we would be in trouble. But it's wasn't his best performance," his coach and father, John acknowledged.

"Everybody who fights Michael now it is their Olympic final. And they will use whatever tactics they can - low blows, headbutts, counter punches, holding - they are going to use whatever tactic it takes," added Conlan senior.

However, he defended his son's decision to get in close. "It was the correct decision because there's safety inside. A guy can't load up plus Michael's inside work is very good."

Read More: Coach Conlan claims O'Reilly swerved training camp

Avagyan's tactics were crude but effective. He possessed a decent right and caught Conlan in each round with it, he knew that he ultimately he couldn't outbox the Irishman. So he opted to try and turn it into a brawl and at times Conlan's obliged.

Still, with Conlan leading 20-18 on all three judges' cards after two rounds the fight was effectively over once the number one seed stayed out of trouble in the last round which he mostly did. He had a mark on his right eye afterwards from a headbutt but otherwise he was all smiles.

"Every tournament I go to, my first fight is always terrible for me. I actually said to Paddy Barnes 'If I come away with a bad performance today and I win I'll be happy because it will set me up for a good one the next time because I'll want to perform'. Paddy said: 'You have to win, you should beat this guy with a bad performance' and I knew I could, I knew I could beat him in any style I wanted too"

So it finally looks as if the Irish squad has got some traction in the boxing arena is Rio - this was only their fourth win in the tournament. And just to make it a even more special day for the Conlan family, yesterday was Father's Day in Brazil!

Meanwhile, Steven Donnelly and Brendan Irvine were yesterday coming to terms with their disappointing Olympic defeats forty eight hours earlier.

Welterweight Steven Donnelly missed out on a medal when he was on the wrong end of a split decision to world champion Mohammed Rabii from Morocco, while 20-year-old Belfast flyweight Irvine was outclassed on his Olympic debut by Shakhobidin Zoirov from Uzbekistan.

"I gave it my all in there. I thought it was very close. Apart from the coaches and myself nobody expected me to get this far.

"I can walk away proud. I would have loved to bring home a medal but unfortunately it was not to be," said Donnelly.

For Brendan Irvine Rio was a learning experience. His focus has already moved to Tokyo in four years' time.

In retrospect the step up in weight from light fly proved a step too fast for him as he couldn't match the Uzbek's power. Now he's looking forward to taking a short break from boxing and engage in his other love; fishing.

Irish Independent

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