Friday 19 January 2018

Conlon qualifies for Olympic Games

By Billy Dodd

Michael Conlon.
Michael Conlon.

WHEN THE Oxford dictionary publishes its new version for 2016, there should be one significant change appearing against a word we regularly use and understand, and that word is sport.

Events over the weekend and in fact over the years dictate that there should be a simple explanation as follows: sport; an event where absolutely anything can happen when individuals or teams compete.

A prime example occurred in Irish boxing last Saturday evening when Michael Conlan benefitted from an unexpected turn of events to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio next year. Michael was in Venezuela with Paddy Barnes to compete in the WSB, a new professional style of boxing where the overall winners and runners-up qualify for Brazil.

Paddy Barnes, the nine-stone Belfast man with the heart of a lion, had his fate in his own hands. Having won six out of six contests, one more win and he was first on the plane. Michael's case was complicated and unlikely, or so he thought.

Either the world ranked number one or number two had to lose their bouts against lowly-ranked opposition while Michael had to win his contest. The only glimmer of hope was a loss for the number one Russian as the number two from Azerbaijan had a handy task. In a bad case of scheduling, the Russian fought and won on Friday night so Conlan's chances were doomed as the Azer was an absolute certainty to win.

I spoke to Billy Walsh on Saturday afternoon hours before the fight and he told me how down in the dumps Michael was, that he was seriously considering pulling out of the fight, as he had no motivation and was physically and mentally exhausted. Bear in mind that both boxers and their coaches (Billy Walsh and John Conlan, Michael's father) had flown over 34,000 miles in 13 weeks and had fought six gruelling contests against the best-ranked boxers in the world.

Compare that to a professional boxer who might fight once every four or five months, and only face really high-class world-ranked opposition once a year.

Both coaches spent an hour before the fight persuading Michael to take part and do himself justice. The threat of a large financial penalty for refusing to fight was also a motivating factor. Venezuela is also an unstable country and an armed escort no matter where they travelled was a good indication of the volatility of the situation. Refusing last minute to fight a local hero in front of a large home crowd would have caused uproar. Besides, Billy Walsh can't run half as fast as he used to so he knew he had to use his management skills and power of persuasion.

Common sense (and the coach's fear for his own life) prevailed and Conlan decided to fight. He turned in a commanding display and showed his class to win convincingly. At least he could finish his qualifying

quest with his pride and dignity intact.

It was only when they had left the ring that word filtered through that the unlikely had indeed happened and the number two was surprisingly beaten. Michael leap-frogged him in to second place and booked his seat beside his best friend, Paddy, on the plane.

Shocks of a similar nature occurred in sports across the board over the weekend. Villa beat Liverpool, Tipperary Under-21 footballers beat Dublin in the semi-final, locally St. James' surprised Gusserane, Waterford beat Tipperary in the hurling and of course the superb performance by young Wexford man Bertram Allen in the world championships in Las Vegas.

It just shows you, with proper preparation, the correct attitude, determination and will to win, anything can happen in sport. It's why we all are so addicted. I wonder will the Oxford dictionary change its definition?

Wexford People

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