Tuesday 27 September 2016

Vincent Hogan: Paddy Barnes parks the light side to go after yet more Olympic glory

Published 08/08/2016 | 02:30

Paddy Barnes. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Paddy Barnes. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Olympic flag-bearer, Paddy Barnes, gets down to serious business today in the only way he knows, tossing a great cascade of punches towards a young Spanish man called Samuel Carmona Heredia.

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Village levity gets suspended then for Ireland's double Olympic medallist, due in the ring at roughly 3.45pm (Irish time) as he goes in search of a place in Thursday's light-fly quarter-finals. Barnes is a compelling gold medal prospect for a division he survives in only through the most brutally ascetic rituals.

To compete, he must hit the scales at a maximum of 48kg, 10kg beneath his natural weight. The self-sacrifice required to do that asks wretched questions of Barnes he finds little joy in answering.

However, his mischievous personality has become a priceless component of the Irish team's DNA and Barnes (right) has endeavoured consistently to lighten the mood in recent days for a group still probably reeling from the news of Michael O'Reilly's alleged doping violation.

He has tweeted village selfies with the likes of Rickie Fowler, Rafa Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams while playfully trolling Rory McIlroy for his absence from the Olympic golf tournament.

But there is a steel to the 29-year-old Belfast fighter too that comes into play approaching competition and all of that Twitter flippancy drew to a natural close last night, Barnes preparing psychologically for a fight he is expected to win without undue fuss.

Just turned 20, Carmonia Heredia boxes under the nickname 'El Infierno' but has nothing in his CV to compare with Barnes's remarkable haul of European gold and silver, two Commonwealth golds, a European Union silver as well as those Olympic bronzes claimed in Beijing and London.

The Belfast man is palpably at home on this stage and is expected to go after today's opponent in trademark fashion with a blizzard of leather. He will be supported in the Riocentro today by his parents, Ellen and Paddy Senior.

But fiancée Mari and daughter Eireann have stayed at home, maybe a sensible course of action given the tunnelled vision that Barnes likes to bring to competition. He is, he admits, effectively tyrannised by the weight demands, describing the hours leading into a fight as "torture".

Recently, he admitted: "When it comes nearer to the day of the weight, I genuinely can't speak. I could walk past my best friend and not say a word. I'm not me then. As it gets closer to the fight, I just lie there in the dark. I'm not in a good way. The team know to leave me alone."

Olympic glory has brought neither wealth nor conspicuous privilege to Barnes, who admits that he might even lose his funding if he doesn't win a medal once again.

Sponsorship has proved frustratingly elusive for one of Ireland's most colourful sports personalities and he hasn't thus ruled out the possibility of following close friend Carl Frampton, into the paid ranks once these Games are over.

But for now, Paddy Barnes is on a mission to haul himself onto the top Olympic podium come light-fly final day next Sunday. His demeanour suggests he will brook no argument on that personal road to deliverance.

"I need to win the gold medal," he says flatly.

It will be a surprise if Samuel Carmonia Heredia derails that compulsion.

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