BELIEVE THE HYPE – CONLAN OUT TO MEDAL
By Ciarán Gallagher
MANY repeat the famous refrain ‘don’t believe the hype’, hoping that limits on expectation will relieve the burden of pressure from young fighters’ shoulders. But Michael Conlan does not sing off that hymn sheet – he’s going to London to medal, and that’s that.
The young Belfast prodigy does not carry a cocky air whatsoever; he is more a product of his background, knowing that his ability nurtured over 13 years by his father, John, in Belfast’s St John Bosco has been honed into a formidable ring craft by Billy Walsh’s team in the IABA’s high-performance gym.
‘I was seven when I started [boxing]. Sometimes I wish hadn’t,’ he says, jokingly. ‘A good outlet for you, kept you on right side of tracks…’
He comes from a hotspot of Belfast where positive and negative influences are potentially at every corner. From one of the most fiercely proud areas in Ireland, the Falls Road has a new hero to cheer on this August, with Conlan already noticing the positive impact his qualification for the Olympics as young enthusiasts flock to the local gym.
‘It’s been great – there’s been a lot of kids have come to the club since I qualified,’explains Conlan. ‘I’m not saying that’s because I qualified, but we seem to have got a lot more people in and it’s good to see. I’m putting the picture out there that they should all be able to do it sometime in their life.
‘The Falls Road community is a tight-knit one alright and there are bits of it where some people don’t like to go because it’s quite run-down. Other than that, though, it seems to be on the up and a lot of kids are getting involved in the sport.
‘My dad was in the club so I was never going to get involved with anything else. It was good because you see all the kids coming up through the club with great potential but getting dragged into drink-driving, taking drugs and stealing cars and stuff like that. It’s good to see young kids having something good to do.’
Conlan, having become an Olympian, is also enjoying being a positive influence and a possible role model for kids. ‘It’s a great feeling,’ he says. ‘But I don’t think it’ll really sink in till I’m someone like Michael Carruth and I’ll be looking back thinking I won an Olympic gold medal.’
The last statement is just a small hint at his self-belief.
Conlan was present alongside Carruth in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium this week to promote the IABA’s StartBox scheme – a non-contact introductory boxing course which encourages primary school children into sport. The Barcelona gold medallist jokes that there is hopefully a fateful coincidence in their shared initials, but also noted that Conlan has the same confidence in his ring ability which he possessed.
‘I’m going there [to London] believing that on my day I can beat anyone, I know I can because I’m capable of anything when I’m on form,’ says Conlan. ‘I don’t think there will be anyone able to beat me at the Olympics.
‘Our team is very strong mentally,’ he continues. ‘Boxers are the only people who medal. Someone said that to me the other day and it’s the only time it came into my head, that we’re the only people who medal.
‘We are the only athletes that medal at the Games. Other people only go there to get placed and get PBs. We’re not going for that, we’re going there to do a job.
‘I’ve always had confidence in my own ability. The High Performance [unit] has built on it but I’ve always been confident,’ he adds.
While the high performance set-up is a family in itself, with Conlan sometimes consulting the team’s performance psychologist Gerry Hussey, the Irish champion can also fall back on the solid foundations of his own home.
John Conlan watches over the ring careers of both Michael and his older brother Jamie, who is a promising pro set for a possible title shot in September.
‘It’s great to have that back-up behind you as sometimes families don’t understand about the depths of training and making weight and how mentally strong you have to be, so it’s good to have them behind me,’ says Michael. ‘They understand that I’ll be grumpy when I’m making weight. They understand what I’m going through.’
Conlan is also more than aware of how easily dreams can be crushed in the precarious world of amateur boxing after his old roommate on international duty, Joe Ward, was scuppered by questionable scoring. ‘Anything can happen. Joe Ward was odds-on to win a medal at the Olympic Games before he’d even qualified, it was unreal,’ says Conlan. ‘Anything can happen in boxing and that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it?’
That terrible beauty is, plainly, no concern to a fighter who fancies his chances, despite such potential for unpredictable upsets as happened to Ward.
‘You can say there’s as much pressure as you want, but I don’t see it as pressure. I’ll just take it in my stride and go for it.’ Believe the hype
*Ciarán Gallagher’s Mail Box column appears every Friday in the Irish Daily Mail, follow on Twitter: @gallagherbox