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Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan target Rio gold after qualifying

By David Kelly

Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan will be shooting for gold at the Rio Olympics after a dramatic Saturday night of boxing in Maiquetia, Venezuela.

Barnes had already sealed his ticket to Brazil after a seventh consecutive victory in the World Series of Boxing for the Italia Thunder team when he then had the joy of running to the ring to tell close friend Conlan that he had qualified for Rio as well following a unanimous points victory over Jose Diaz.

Bantamweight Conlan needed to win in his last fight of the WSB regular season and hope that Magomed Gurbanov of Azerbaijan lost away to Puerto Rico's Hector Garcia.

Gurbanov was the favourite going into the fight but Garcia dropped the Azeri in the fifth en route to a unanimous decision. The results meant that Russian Vladimir Nikitin and Conlan finished in the top two places of the 56kg class, which guaranteed the Belfast man's place in Rio.

Light-fly Barnes - a double Olympic bronze medallist - had earlier in the evening made history by becoming the first Irish boxer to make it to three Olympic Games when he defeated Finol Rivas on a split decision - 49-45, 49-45, 47-48.

Fellow London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Conlan revealed he had actually thought about withdrawing from the final contest of the regular season as he believed his Rio chance had gone, via the WSB route.

"I can't believe it. I'm still in shock," said Conlan as he prepared to board the plane back to Dublin.

"I was going to pull out of the fight when Russia won on Friday night. I didn't think the Puerto Rican had a chance of beating the Azeri guy, my heart was broken and I felt like crying.

"I didn't even care about the fight until about an hour before when I just felt happy for some reason, I must have just known something good was going to happen. When I went into the fight I don't think I performed well but I think it's because I didn't really care, but during the fight, after round three which I lost, I said, 'I need to win this in case the Azeri has lost'. I won, got out of the ring and Paddy ran over shouting to me, 'You've qualified!'

"I thought, 'I've qualified?' I thought he was messing and then when I realised it was true I could have cried my eyes out.

"It wasn't as good as my daughter being born but it came quite close considering all that I had been through that night before and the day of the fight.

"Some things are meant to be. I think I'm dreaming."

An equally thrilled Barnes has no doubt that with a year's preparation, both men have a real shot at bringing home gold from the Rio Games.

"It's great. It hasn't really sunk in yet as I never really think about stuff like creating history and I may not until I retire but I know it's a massive achievement and I'm so proud of it," said Barnes.

"I'm stress free now that I have got over the line to Rio because it's extremely hard to qualify, especially at my weight as there are fewer boxers.

"The fight itself was tough. In the back of my mind I had Rio calling me so it made me a bit more nervous and the heat of the arena didn't help me either.

"It's the first time I can remember ever being tired in a fight. Now we're going to Rio and Michael and I have given ourselves a realistic chance of gold."

Belfast Telegraph


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