Vincent Hogan: Paddy Barnes’ Olympic dream cursed by weight demands
Two-time Olympic medallist admits his days as a light-fly are over after crushing loss
The most ennobling moments often come in adversity, and defeat did not diminish Paddy Barnes as his Olympic dream perished in Rio yesterday.
The Belfast light-fly looked physically and emotionally ransacked after a split decision loss to 20-year-old Spaniard Samuel Carmona Heredia that crushed his hopes of winning a medal at a third consecutive Olympiad.
And Barnes revealed afterwards that he had fought his last Olympic fight and would never again compete at 49kg.
Having weighed 58kg just seven weeks ago, Barnes feared that he might not even make the penal weight to compete here, a challenge he has previously described as "torture".
"My biggest battle. . . in there (nodding towards the ring) is easy, but making the weight behind the scenes . . . people don't understand how hard it is," he said. "I didn't think I was going to make it, but I just pushed myself that hard because it was the Olympic Games. But I'm just so tired, I'm feeling too big for the weight."
It emerged too that Barnes had been suffering with a mild chest infection in recent days, albeit he was reluctant to use that as an excuse for his defeat.
"I felt good coming to the ring," he stressed, "but at the end of the first round, my energy was completely gone. I had nothing to give. I just don't know how I threw as many punches as I did in the second and third. . . I don't know where they came from because I was so weak."
Barnes (29) was trailing on two of the judges' cards after that first round and, while he rallied to level the contest after round two, he could never quite assert enough control in the third to swing the contest decisively in his direction.
The Spaniard was told to keep his head up in the second, yet looked ominously confident, returning to his corner at the bell with a cheery wave to supporters.
Zaur Antia informed Barnes that the fight was level at that point and, for all his exhaustion, the Belfast man thought he might just have done enough to nick it in the last.
He did catch Carmona Heredia with a stinging right cross, but the Spaniard just kept driving relentlessly forward against a now visibly spent Barnes.
Remarkably, the Irishman revealed afterwards that he failed to make the weight "every time" during qualifying for these Games through the World Series of Boxing, his franchise, Italia Thunder, incurring a fine for that failure.
It might also have been a factor that, through a variety of circumstance, this was his first fight for Ireland in a major tournament since the 2013 World Championships.
Barnes suggested candidly that, had he progressed into one of tomorrow's quarter-finals, he would have been in no fit state to compete.
"I'm actually happy that he got the decision," he said of Carmonia Heredia. "Because the next fight, I wouldn't have lasted like this. I would have been embarrassed and made a fool of myself."
His defeat represents a crushing blow to the Irish team, for whom Barnes is, as coach John Conlan put it "the life and soul of the camp". Conlan's son Michael is Ireland's other great gold medal hope and his bond with Barnes drew him down to the Riocentro to commiserate with his great friend.
Conlan said his son was "devastated" by the Barnes defeat.
Read more: Barnes loss shakes Irish team
"It's just devastating for us all, he's probably been our most successful boxer I feel," he revealed. "This is his third Olympics and I personally felt he was getting a gold medal. But it's not a shoo-in.
"I mean every fight is hard. I watched five tapes of this guy this morning and I knew what he was bringing to the table. I watched him closely in the last few qualifying competitions and he was hard done-by against an English guy. So I knew what to expect.
"Paddy is talking about the weight and eventually it does take a toll on you. He made it bang on 49 this morning.
"He was hitting hard in the warm-up with the pads but it's just a little bit too much for him, as he said. I'm gutted for him and his family."
Yet, self-pity was not on Barnes' radar last night as he faced up to the next two weeks reduced, essentially, to senior cheerleader for the boxing team.
"There was expectation" he agreed, "but, to be honest with you, I'm ruthless and selfish and don't care what anyone thinks. I do this for myself, my family and my country. If there is anyone who doesn't like me, I don't care.
"I do it for myself and I let the supporters down by not winning the fight. I thought I was favourite for gold, I honestly believed I would come away with it.
"But the show still goes on. You've got Michael Conlan and Joe Ward, big names in Irish boxing. And, please God, they will bring home the medals that I should have done."
As to his immediate future, Barnes was non-committal, albeit ruling out retirement.
"Dunno, have a long break and see where we go from there," he sighed. "I'll just never fight 49kg again. It's just too hard. Too draining."