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Golden boy Michael Conlan is a cut above lifting Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year award

World King eyes Rio joy after lifting top award

By Steven Beacom

Michael Conlan has another title to add to a growing list - the 2015 Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year award.

The brilliant amateur boxer collected the prestigious prize last night at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, sponsored by Linwoods, at the Ramada Plaza hotel in front of a star studded audience.

What a start to the Olympic year for the Belfast man, who is intent on going to Rio and returning to Northern Ireland with a gold medal.

In 2015, bantamweight Conlan created sporting history. After qualifying for the Olympic Games in April, he became European champion in August and the icing on the cake came in October when he won the World Amateur title.

When defeating Murodjon Akhmadaliev of Uzbekistan in their 56kg final in Doha, Conlan became the first man from Northern Ireland to experience victory at the long running championships. Indeed, he became the first man from the island of Ireland to stand on top of the podium (right).

And the 24-year-old did it with a style and a swagger that had boxing fans purring. The class - and confidence - oozes out of Conlan.

All this in 2015 and Michael got engaged to his partner Shauna and they became parents for the first time when beautiful daughter Luisne was born.

What a year!

In 2012 he won the George Best Breakthrough Award at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards and he has collected two Special Recognition prizes at the ceremony, but last night was the first time he has taken home the big one - the Sports Star of the Year trophy.

At the glittering ceremony, Conlan received his Sports Star of the Year prize from Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Belfast Telegraph Editor Gail Walker and Linwoods Head of Marketing Sarah Shimmons.

He overcame some serious competition. The stunning shortlist was made up of four World champions, an iconic jockey and an inspirational captain.

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis, who inspired his country to the Euro 2016 finals, Sir Tony McCoy, who retired in 2015 having won his 20th title, World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, World boxing champion Carl Frampton and World Lightweight pairs rowing champion Joel Cassells were all in the mix.

Last year Frampton shared the top award with golfer Rory McIlroy. Conlan is the third boxer in the 21-year history of the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards to pick up the premier prize, with Wayne McCullough the first ever winner.

"It is great to be named the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year for 2015," said Conlan, whose mum Teresa was in attendance and beaming with pride.

"I have won other categories at the Awards and to win the big prize means a lot to me, especially when you look at the strength of the shortlist."

Only three people from Northern Ireland have gold medals from the summer Olympics, Dame Mary Peters and hockey greats Stephen Martin - who along with Dame Mary was at the show - and Jimmy Kirkwood.

Conlan, a bronze medallist at London 2012 and coached by dad John, is determined to join that list.

"I'm going to Rio with only one thought in mind and that is to win gold," said the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion. "I have the experience of London behind me and I believe I can go all the way this time.

"Having won the World Championships in 2015, I will be favourite at the Olympics but it doesn't bother me. I know I will go there and win the gold. No one is going to stop me."

In Rio, Conlan will be joined by fellow Ulster boxers Paddy Barnes and Steven Donnelly. After Brazil, he will enter the professional ranks.

Older brother Jamie is already there and is hoping for a World title shot later this year. His fights tend to be exciting and you get the feeling the younger sibling's contests at professional level will be just the same. His ring craft, hand speed, balance and movement can make him a big hit.

He will leave behind a host of glorious memories from the amateur game, not least that historic World title success.

In the final in October, Conlan defeated Akhmadaliev 29-28, 29-28, 30-27 in a typically clever display of boxing, though he was shocked late in the third and final round when he was dumped on the canvas for the first time in his career. He quickly regained his composure to see the fight out.

"It was probably the best punch I've ever been hit with in my life. I've never been down before but I recovered really quickly and was delighted for myself and my family to win the gold and create history," he said.

"Being a World champion is incredible. I am Commonwealth champion, European champion and World champion. Now I want to complete the set and be Olympic champion before I move on with my career."

Belfast Telegraph

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