Belfast boxer Conlan's shock win seals Olympics spot
Just nine months ago Michael Conlan was standing in the Ulster Hall bewildered as to how he had lost the Ulster flyweight final. Yesterday he booked his ticket to the Olympics.
It has been a quite incredible rise for Conlan, who put that bitter, controversial Ulster title disappointment behind him to win the Irish title a month later and since then he has grown into a truly world class amateur boxer.
In winning the Irish flyweight title he became the first boxer from St John Bosco in over 40 years to record such a feat and now he has emulated Marty Quinn who boxed at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.
The 19-year-old will be joined in London by Mullingar bantamweight John Joe Nevin and Kilkenny middleweight Darren O'Neill who also made it through to today’s quarter-finals.
At the World Championships in Baku, Conlan has now delivered three stunning performances and the best yet came just at the right time as he overcame the number two seed Nordine Oubaali of France 20-17.
Oubaali, a bronze medallist at the World Championships in Chicago four years ago, was left stunned by the class and tenacity of Conlan who was 5-2 down after the opening three minutes.
In a barnstorming second round he levelled it up at 11-11 going into the equally exciting third round, which he just edged.
Conlan will now meet Wales' reigning European champion Andrew Selby in today's quarter-final to secure at least a bronze medal.
“I'm so glad, so happy, I put my heart and soul into it and gave it everything,” he said.
“I was behind in the first round and I had to pull it back, it was close. The second round was tough, I gave it everything.
“I've had three tough fights out here, nothing has come easy but I'm absolutely delighted to have qualified for the Olympics — the quarter-final is going to be another big day,” said Conlan.
Nevin, who boxes out of Cavan, defeated Otgondalai Dorjnyambuu from Mongolia on a countback after the judges had the pair level at 18-18 .
Nevin, who won bronze at the 2009 World Championships, will now face Orzubek Shayimov from Uzbekistan to at least repeat that feat of two years ago.
Nevin said: “I'm over the moon. I'm through to my second Olympics and the man who beat me in the Beijing Games three years ago was a Mongolian — Enkhbat Badar-Uugan — who went on to win the gold medal.
“The Uzbek beat me 7-3 before but I was down with the flu at the time, so hopefully I can get the win against him and make it one apiece.”
O'Neill qualified for London with a well deserved 19-12 victory over Bulgaria’s Mladen Manev.
The Kilkenny southpaw, who beat Manev 6-0 en route to silver at the 2010 European Championships in Moscow, will meet Ryota Murata of Japan in the quarter-finals today.
O’Neill said: “It's a dream come true, it's brilliant.
“This is the stuff I have been dreaming of since I was a young age.
“My two dreams were to medal at a major competition — I did that in Moscow — and to qualify for the Olympic Games.
“We had a game plan. We knew that Manev was very strong. He hits very hard with both hands. I'm a big puncher myself, but even at that I was thinking there is no need to get involved here because I have the boxing skills.
“I haven't seen this Japanese guy, Murata, but he's after stopping the world champion.”
There was, however, disappointment for four other Irishmen as light-heavyweight Joe Ward, lightweight David Oliver Joyce, welterweight Roy Sheahan and super-heavyweight Con Sheehan all suffered defeat.
Ward, the reigning European champion, suffered his first ever senior defeat after 11 successive wins, going down on a countback after his clash with Ehsan Rouzbahani from Iran finished 15-15.
Joyce, from Athy, slipped to a narrow 32-30 defeat to Jai Bhagwan from India after somewhat harshly being given a public warning for holding with just four seconds remaining.
Meanwhile, RTE2 will tonight show highlights from today’s quarter-finals in Baku from 5pm.