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Flag bearer Paddy Barnes vows to lead way to glory at Rio Olympics

By Frank Brownlow

Published 28/04/2016

First to the punch: Boxer Paddy Barnes, flag-bearer for the Ireland team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, with Olympic Council of Ireland President Patrick Hickey
First to the punch: Boxer Paddy Barnes, flag-bearer for the Ireland team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, with Olympic Council of Ireland President Patrick Hickey
Counting down: Flyweight boxer Brendan Irvine, who recently secured a qualification spot for the Olympic Games, at the Sport Northern Ireland Sports Institute. He is pictured with physiotherapist Orla O’Rourke and strength and conditioning coach Robbie Bremner, who are among the team of specialists at the Sports Institute supporting local athletes

Paddy Barnes has pledged to be an inspirational leader after being selected to carry the Irish flag at the Rio Olympics Openeing Ceremony in 100 days' time.

The Belfast boxer is bidding to become the first Irish competitor to win medals at three successive Olympics following on from bronze in Beijing and London.

The 29-year-old has been chosen for the honour despite competition from the likes of superstar golfer Rory McIlroy.

"It's a great honour - I'm over the moon. It's just as big as winning a medal," he said.

"It's an amazing feeling to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games and I've been lucky enough to experience it twice before already.

"I will be going for gold in Rio in the ring but I will also have the responsibility of helping to build a really positive environment for all Irish athletes. I could not be more excited about the next 100 days."

Light flyweight Barnes is the second boxer in succession to be chosen for the honour, following on from London gold medallist Katie Taylor at the 2012 Games.

"Katie Taylor carried the flag and won gold, so it's a good omen," he said.

"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.

"I'm really, really grateful. It's not very often people carry the flag at the Games. Carrying the flag for me, leading your country at the biggest sporting event in the world, it's just great."

Barnes is one of Ireland's best medal prospects for Rio, along with fellow boxer, and great pal, Michael Conlan.

The Belfast fighter, who won flyweight bronze at London 2012 and followed up by becoming world amateur bantamweight champion last year, believes Irish boxing is "exactly the same if not better" despite the departure of Billy Walsh, who resigned as head coach in October to take up a post with the USA.

"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."

Ireland currently has six boxers qualified for the Olympic Games - Ulster quartet Barnes, Conlan, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly plus Joe Ward and David Oliver Joyce - though that number is expected to rise.

There are high hopes Taylor will secure a spot and, with it, the chance to defend her gold medal after a shock first defeat in five years at the qualifiers.

Belfast Telegraph

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