Belfast Telegraph

'Brothers' Conlan and Barnes made games so special

By Steven Beacom

They called them the Friendly Games. Glasgow 2014 was also the Family Games.

The brilliant Brownlee brothers dominated the triathlon, husband and wife Chris and Gabby Adcock struck gold in the badminton and then there was Team Northern Ireland's father and son combination – John and Michael Conlan.

The boy did the business in the ring and John, along with his fellow coaches Stephen Friel and Eddie Bolger, did an excellent job out of it guiding Northern Ireland's boxers to an unprecedented NINE Commonwealth Games medals.

When Michael won his gold the first person to congratulate him was his dad.

Last week John told me he was the father to all 11 of Team NI's boxers in Scotland and that he had to keep the emotion of his kid being one of them out of the picture.

The Dubliner, recently appointed as the sport's High Performance Director in Northern Ireland, was allowed a momentary lapse when it was announced Conlan junior had triumphed in the bantamweight final against England's Qais Ashfaq.

The embrace wasn't coach and boxer. It was proud dad and grateful son, who has been trained by the Oul Fella since he first put on a pair of gloves as a child.

One of the next to greet Michael with a beaming smile was Paddy Barnes, brothers in all but name.

Barnes had won his gold medal minutes earlier in the SSE Hydro arena beating India's Devendro Laishram by a unanimous decision in the light-flyweight division.

Conlan would never have heard the end of it had he not followed suit.

They are like twins in these big boxing tournaments. Both won bronze medals in the London 2012 Olympics, they claimed silver in last year's European Championships and here in Glasgow the pair hit the goldmine.

They came to Scotland as the two star men on the boxing squad... and that's how they left it.

Mind you, they reached their goals in contrasting fashion, with Barnes cruising to his title while Conlan had to give blood for the cause.

Before Saturday's final, the St John Bosco fighter passed a morning medical on a cut over his right eye sustained in his semi-final victory.

With the male boxers not wearing headguards in Glasgow, Conlan had also been cut in his first win of the competition, but the second cut proved to be deepest as he showed on his Twitter account. No wonder Conlan thanked the medical staff for patching him up to get him in the ring.

Once there the 22-year-old Belfast boxer produced a dynamic display in rounds two and three after losing the first.

Few fighters have come back from going behind in these Games, so Conlan, who went on the attack with some bruising blows, deserves much praise for turning things around to become our first bantamweight champion since Barry McGuigan in 1978.

"I had to deliver on a big, big stage. I thought I had won the first round but found I'd lost it and had to change my tactics and push him back a lot more and it worked for me in the end. I knew I had the drive and heart to beat him," said Conlan, before revealing he only had seven sparring sessions ahead of Glasgow due to injury.

Conlan, normally such a confident performer, also admitted in recent weeks he had moments of self doubt.

"I can't believe what I have come through. Two weeks before coming over here I was doubting myself. I was sparring with this Australian kid and I should have been destroying him, but I wasn't and I was doubting myself about whether I could come here and do it. I was really nervous but at the end of the day I knew if I fought to my ability nobody could beat me. I'm really proud of myself for winning gold," said Conlan, eliminated early on four years ago in Delhi.

With a new house to decorate Conlan is taking a month off before deciding his future. Many involved in the game believe he could enjoy a successful professional career, but you get the feeling having enjoyed the taste of gold, he will fancy a trip to Rio in 2016 for the Olympics.

His mate Barnes will definitely be there.

And the Holy Family fighter will arrive in South America as a history maker having become the first Northern Ireland boxer to defend his Commonwealth title.

"That does make it extra special. I like making history," said Barnes, a two-time Olympic bronze medallist. Throughout the competition the 27-year-old unleashed lightning fast combinations to head and body. His quicksilver hands were matched by the speed of his feet. Throw in a compact defence and he was a class above everybody in his division, never looking in danger, though he felt his final contest was a difficult one.

"It was a very, very tough fight. I knew going in there that it was going to be one of the hardest fights of my life and it was," said Barnes, who relished the atmosphere inside the Hydro.

"I've boxed in China in front of 15,000 Chinese guys who wanted to knock my head in, but the Scottish fans are unbelievable, I loved it out there."

Serious up to that point in his post-fight interview, Barnes couldn't help himself with some wisecracks to finish.

"So, Paddy will you ever turn pro?"

A cheeky smile, then: "As soon as some promoter pays my mortgage off. They couldn't afford me. Too much."

"What's next then?"

Without pausing for thought: "A good rest. Maybe a trip to Bundoran!"

Clearly that's in preparation for his trip to Copacabana beach in 2018.

Our stars take the applause

Team Northern Ireland set sail for home today having bagged 12 Commonwealth Games medals in Glasgow.

The medal haul was the second largest in the country's history, behind the 15 won in Edinburgh in 1986 the last time the Games were in Scotland, though back then more than half of the nations eligible to compete boycotted the event.

The dozen medals is two more than the number achieved in Delhi four years ago, and 10 better than the paltry two secured in Melbourne 2006.

Our boxing team dominated with nine taking Northern Ireland to a 15th place finish in the medal table with Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan the only competitors to claim gold.

There were silvers for fighters Michaela Walsh and Joe Fitzpatrick plus the Men's Bowls Triples team consisting of Neil Booth, Paul Daly and Neil Mulholland.

The Women's Bowls Pairs team, Barbara Cameron and Mandy Cunningham, claimed bronze along with boxers Alanna Audley-Murphy, Steven Donnelly, Connor Coyle, Sean Duffy and Sean McGlinchy and judo star Lisa Kearney, who collected her prize on the first day of competition.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was full of praise for Team NI. She said: "It was a great achievement to come away from Glasgow with 12 medals, two more than in Delhi four years ago, and the team was unfortunate not to have secured a number of other medals, with a number of athletes coming very close.

"All of our athletes prepared diligently for these Games and are deserving of the tributes that come their way. However none of them would have reached the level they have achieved without the help and support of the many people who have helped them throughout their career and I thank these people who have and continue to give selflessly of their time to promote sport and sporting excellence."

Sport NI Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown added: "The energy and enthusiasm of the Team NI athletes at these Games has been infectious.

"Their dedication and commitment to their sport is outstanding and each and every one of them should be so proud of what they have achieved. They are an inspiration to us all and in particular, the next generation of athletes in Northern Ireland."

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