Sunday 18 February 2018

Conlan and Ward predict Irish gold rush at Rio Games

Michael Conlan at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Michael Conlan at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile

Bernard O'Neill

If Michael Conlan's and Joe Ward's predictions prove to be accurate, Irish sport will celebrate its most successful Olympics next August in Rio.

The 2016 Olympians, both World Elite gold and silver medallists, believe that Irish boxing, if it performs to its full potential, can take home four gold medals from the 31st Olympiad.

Conlan is tipping himself, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor, if she qualifies, to go all the way, and Ward believes that, if he meets Julio la Cruz - the Cuban beat Ward in the 2013 and 2015 World Elite light-heavyweight semi-final and final - for a third time, he'll beat him.

Both men were speaking at the Irish Institute of Sport in Abbotstown yesterday at an Irish Athletic Boxing Association-hosted training camp that also featured Olympic hopefuls from Great Britain, Germany, India and Kazakhstan.

"I think it's a possibility that we can qualify a full team of ten men for Rio," said Conlan, the only Irish male boxer to win AIBA World Elite gold.


"We're capable of beating anyone on our day and I've great confidence in this team. Myself and Paddy will definitely win gold in Rio and Katie also if she qualifies."

Ward, who is signed with AIBA Pro Boxing, has learned valuable lessons from his two meetings with La Cruz, a three-time World champion.

"In 2013, I found it hard to adapt to him because he's so awkward, but I felt more comfortable in the world final last time out. There's no doubt that he is a world-class boxer," he said.

"But I've learned lots from those two fights. He's still the one to beat, but Rio will be my time to shine and I'm going to pass him out and win gold. That's it."

Ward, Conlan, Barnes, David Oliver Joyce, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly have already qualified for Rio.

Three qualifiers remain between now and July before the start of the Rio Games on August 5.

Taylor, meanwhile, had her last sparring session with Russia's Sofya Ochigava, whom she beat in the London 2012 final, in Abbotstown yesterday.

An eight-strong Irish squad leave for Kazakhstan tomorrow ahead of the start of the ninth edition of the AIBA World Women's Elite Championships and Olympic qualifiers in Astana on May 19.

The top four women in the three Olympic weights for women - flyweight, light and middle - will qualify for Rio. Cavan's Ceire Smith and Cork's Christina Desmond line out at fly and middle respectively, while 61 fighters may contest Taylor's lightweight class.

Donna Barr, Dervla Duffy, Moira McElligott, Kelly Harrington and Grainne Walsh complete the Irish squad.

Irish Independent

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