Friday 15 December 2017

Conlan will relish seeing Walsh in opposite corner

Michael Conlan: 'Can't wait' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Michael Conlan: 'Can't wait' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Cathal Dennehy

Olympic bronze medallist Michael Conlan believes Irish boxing is "exactly the same if not better" since the departure of Billy Walsh, who resigned as head coach of the High Performance Unit in October to take up a coaching position with USA Boxing.

With yesterday marking 100 days until the Games in Rio de Janeiro, Conlan believes Ireland's boxers are on course for a record medal haul, and the Belfast man is relishing the idea of doing so with their former leader standing in the opposite corner.

"Billy has contacted me a few times and makes a few jokes that he's got a fighter who's going to beat me, but I have [interim head coach] Zaur Antia in my corner and my father," said Conlan.

"He doesn't have a tactic to beat me when I have those guys.

"It's something I'm looking forward to, seeing Billy in the opposite corner. He might be sad when I beat his gold medal favourite, but I'm sure he'll be delighted for me on the inside. I can't wait to go and win gold."

Conlan's compatriot Paddy Barnes agreed that little has changed since Walsh's departure.

"We've got Zaur Antia, who's the best technical coach in the world, so it's exactly the same," said Barnes, who was announced yesterday as the Irish flag-bearer for the opening ceremony.

"At the last Olympics Katie Taylor carried the flag and won gold, so it's a good omen. I'm the number one in the world. I know for a fact I'm the best, so I just need to perform to my best and I'll win gold this time. I know I will."

While Rio will be Barnes' third Olympics, team-mate Joe Ward is preparing for his first, and the 22-year-old is confident he will make an impact when the Games begin on August 5.

"I'm not going to make up the numbers," said Ward. "In my mind I'm going to be Olympic champion."

Ireland currently has six boxers qualified for the Olympic Games - Conlan, Barnes, Ward, Brendan Irvine, Steven Donnelly and David Oliver Joyce - though that number is expected to rise over the next month, according to High Performance coach Eddie Bolger.

"We're strong in every weight division, and we could qualify two or three more," he said.

"Billy has moved on, but nothing has changed. We wish him the best of luck, but it's game on, simple as that."

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