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Paddy Barnes: I want to bring back a gold medal from the Olympics for my little girl

By Steven Beacom

Boxing hero Paddy Barnes has admitted that qualifying for next year's Olympic Games in Rio was the toughest, most gruelling and depressing experience of his life... but now that he has made it he has more incentive than ever to bring home a gold medal.

That incentive comes in the shape of his beautiful daughter Eireann, who celebrates her first birthday this week.

Barnes loves being a dad. Talk to him about his little girl and his face lights up.

"It's brilliant. I love playing with Eireann. Sometimes I think I'm a bigger kid than her!" he says with a mischievious grin.

The 28-year-old from north Belfast adds that, right now, he is making up for lost time with his family having been involved in a qualifying process for Rio that took him all around the globe to fight in recent months.

From Azerbaijan to Venezuela, Barnes has seen enough hotel rooms to last him a lifetime, competing in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) which acted as a pathway to his third Olympics.

"I'm glad it's finished. We were flying all over the world for 14 weeks and it was the toughest and worst experience of my life," said light flyweight Barnes, who won bronze in the Beijing and London Games.

"I've never ever been through an experience like that. It was so hard and so depressing and to be honest I hated every minute of it.

"I hurt my right hand in my first fight, but I had to fight on because of what was at stake. I had to make my weight every two weeks, I had to take long haul flights every two weeks and I hated it."

Barnes was at a different level to most of his opponents and ended up ranked top of the WSB pile to reach Rio, though he says he never felt fully fit.

"The fights weren't too tough apart from maybe my last one, because of the style of my opponent who was very elusive and kept running away, but I was only fighting at 80%. I'll be better in Rio."

The toughest aspect was being apart from his partner Mari and the apple of their eyes Eireann.

Barnes said: "It was difficult to be away from Mari and my daughter. At this stage in her life she would be recognising people and I wasn't there for a lot of that. I felt like a stranger to her because I wasn't seeing her that much. Now I intend spending so much time with her she might get sick of me!"

A party has been organised at the Grove Leisure Centre in Belfast to mark Eireann's first birthday.

No doubt, like every other doting parent, Paddy will look at his little angel and think where has the time gone. Another 12 months down the line, Eireann will be two and her daddy will be in full preparation mode for Rio.

He doesn't think Mari and Eireann will go with him to South America due to the 'long haul flight and because I'd hardly see them out there' but that won't stop him thinking about his family every day and dreaming about bringing back a special gift to Belfast.

"I'm not just competing for myself any more. I'm competing for my family. I was trying to get to the Olympics to hold on to my funding. The funding is obviously very important because I have to pay the bills," he says.

"I would be training hard anyway, but the thought of bringing gold back home to my little girl will make me train even harder. I'd love to be able to hang a gold medal around her neck. That would be the best thing ever."

Over the past decade Barnes has become one of Northern Ireland's most recognised sports stars. He is the quick talker with even sharper wit and an infectious personality.

Fun to be around, he can be serious too when required, be it when telling young boxers outside the ring about the dedication and belief they need to be successful or inside the ring when he gets down to work.

Barnes, let's not forget, is Northern Ireland's most decorated amateur boxer.

As well as collecting bronze at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, he has been a Commonwealth Games winner in 2010 and 2014 and became European champion five years ago. Barnes is a master technician whose fast fists and feet bamboozle opponents. It's a pity his craft won't be on show at this year's World Championships.

"The World Championships are in October but myself and Michael Conlan can't go to them because we (would) need to go to the European Championships in August to qualify."

"The European Championships are too soon. We have been training from November and our bodies are torn to bits.

"We need a proper rest, not just from training but mentally as well. We need a break from boxing. It would be too soon to go to the Europeans. That's unfortunate because I'd like to go to the World Championships."

Barnes pauses, then adds in a dig at the boxing authorities: "I think they make the rules up as they go along. I really do. So, because of that, all I am focusing on is the Olympics. That's the next big thing for me."

In Rio, Barnes is likely to come into contact with fellow Ireland team mate Rory McIlroy. The boxer was critical of the world number one golfer last year when he opted for Ireland rather than Team GB, questioning how long the decision took, but it seems he is willing to offer an olive branch in Brazil.

"Rory McIlroy's his own man and can do what he likes. I give my opinion at the time, but who am I to question him? I have nothing against him and he probably doesn't even know me," said Barnes.

"If I see him in Rio I'd go up to him and shake his hand and wish him all the best. If he is in my team I'm going to support him 100% and I want to see him win a gold medal. The more we can win the better," adds Paddy, who before Rio will make a trip to London and Buckingham Palace this year to collect the MBE he was awarded in the New Year honours list. He is looking forward to 'enjoying the day out".

First things first though. Daddy Barnes has to help his little girl blow out a candle on her birthday cake.

Belfast Telegraph


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