World Elite champion Michael Conlan and World Series of Boxing champion Paddy Barnes, the only Irish boxer to qualify for three Olympics, have outlined their favourite and saddest moments in Irish sport, their favourite Irish sportspeople and the challanges they face inside and outside the squared circle.
The Belfast duo are with the Irish male Olympic squad in training camp at a naval base in Rio with Brazil and the USA. The team – Barnes, Conlan, Brendan Irvine, David Oliver Joyce, Steven Donnelly, Michael O’Reilly and Joe Ward – are scheduled to move to the Olympic village on Friday. Male boxing at Rio 2016 begins on August 6.
Katie Taylor joins the squad on August 2. Female boxing begins on August 12.
Conlan’s happiest sporting memory is Ireland beating Holland to qualify for the World Cup in Landsdowne Road in 2001, but his saddest is Bernard Dunne losing to Kiko Martinez at the Point in Dublin in 2007. Conlan lists his fellow Olympic medallist Wayne McCullough as his favourite Irish athlete.
Barnes’ favourite sporting moment was the Beijing Olympics, where he won bronze. His saddest was Ireland crashing out of the World Cup to Spain on penalties in 2002. He lists champion jockey AP McCoy as his favourite Irish athlete.
What is your earliest happy Irish sporting memory?
Michael: “A World Cup qualifier in 2001– Ireland v Holland at Lansdowne Road. What a game and what an atmosphere. It was the one that really sealed our passage to the 2002 World Cup.”
Paddy: “My favourite Irish sporting moment would have to be the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. It was my first serious tournament and the intensity of it was amazing.”
What is your earliest sad Irish sporting memory?
Michael: “When Bernard Dunne was beaten by Kiko Martinez in the Point Depot in 2007. Bernard is an awesome fighter and it was a sad night.”
Paddy: “It was in 2002, the World Cup, where Ireland lost on penalties to Spain. They crashed out the World Cup at the last 16 stage and I was just devastated.”
Who is your Irish sporting hero?
Michael: “Wayne McCullough. I loved him. My favourite memory is him winning the Olympic silver medal in Barcelona 1992. I’m too young to have watched it live but I’ve seen it many times. It was a great time for Irish boxers with Michael Carruth winning the gold.”
Paddy: “In the past six or seven years I’ve really looked up to A.P. McCoy. It’s a totally different sport to boxing but the stuff he has to go through to make weight is similar. I really admire his achievements, his weight-making, and still going on through his many injuries. I’ve met him a few times and he’s such a nice guy.”
What has been the biggest sporting challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Michael: “Being injured before the Commonwealth Games in 2010. I had a serious injury and didn’t think I could box again. But I came back and competed with two weeks training. That was definitely my greatest comeback.”
Paddy: “After medalling at the Beijing Olympics, a lot of people might have seen it as a flash in the pan. So I had to prove myself and to keep winning. And two years later I was European champion, Commonwealth champion, and a year later I qualified for my second Olympic games, something which I nearly thought I couldn’t do myself.”
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced outside sport?
Michael: “Becoming a father and having to balance fatherhood and training. I want to be a good father and want to be there as much as I can so my daughter can be happy.”
Paddy: “The biggest challenge I’ve faced outside sport would have to be education. Because of sport, I’m so dedicated and I haven’t got time for it. It’s a pity I didn’t do it when I was younger. I was a bit of a messer when I was younger but now I realise how important it is.”
What did you learn from overcoming these challenges?
Michael: “That I’m tough and resilient.”
Paddy: “If you dedicate your life to one thing, and you believe in achieving that one thing, then you can do it.”