By Jonny Stapleton
IF Jamie Conlan played Batman and rode to the rescue of Irish-boxing on Saturday night the Irish crowd were none other than Robin.
In a brilliant piece published on Irish-boxing.com earlier today Joe O’Neill quite rightly pointed out the Belfast super flyweight’s guts galore performance should ensure Dublin boxing will be provided with a platform from which it can start closing the gap on the pugilist capital of Ireland, Belfast.
A defeat for ‘The Mexican’ by Mexican Junior Granados in the National Stadium might have meant the Boxnation camera men, Barry Jones, Steve Lillis and the like might have had to wave goodbye to Dublin for good.
That would have been too big a blow for the pro element of the sport to take just when it looked like the paid fight game had beaten the count administrated to it by the stoppage reverse of Matthew Macklin in the 3 Arena late last year.
Sky’s the limit was the feeling going into that November clash, big time boxing was back and here to stay- but after ‘Mack The Knife’s’ loss it was was pie in Sky. Sky Sports were not for returning. We had our 15 minutes of fame and it looked like a number of our fighters would have to clock up air miles if they wanted air time.
When MGM decided to return and bring the Boxnation cameras with them a new air of excitement and hope spread. There was talk of six TV shows a year and regular fights for Irish fighters from differing gyms. It was all lets make love not war-out of the ring at least-and do whats right for Irish boxing and Irish fight fans.
The joy, however nearly turned to tears late Saturday night.
They may not have felt the pain Conlan did 2:05 into round seven when a body shot connected, but a gut wrenching feeling played havock with the crowd in attendance’s solar plexus.
Instead of joyous choruses of ‘Here We Go’ ringing around the Stadium there were groans of ‘here we go again!” There were ringside Macklin flash backs as it all looked like it could fall apart once more.
Then something amazing happened and something that we might look back on in a number of years as that Mark Robbins moment.
Realizing St John Bosco graduate was in severe pain, noticing he looked incapable of rising from all fours and knowing what was at stake the crowd got involved.
A noise traveled from the back of the Stadium and all but lifted Conlan to his feet before lifting the roof of the historic venue.
He hit the deck again seconds before the final bell and again the punters encouraged him to beat the count. Even more impressively the 2000 plus in the first ever purpose built boxing stadium in the World knew Conlan was in need of encouragement and they got behind him for the remainder of the clash.
It might sound routine for home support supporting the home fighter, but there was something unique about the atmosphere in the Stadium from round 7 on.
Irish fans have always been exceptional, Bernard Dunne nights were sensationally atmospheric, Carl Frampton’s clashes follow a similar vein. It’s partisan, passionate and lets party.
However, its raucous and loud as soon as ‘Sweet Caroline’ blares over the speakers and while exceptional and unrivaled Saturday night was crowd participation of a unique kind.
When the Belfast man was dropped the paying punter knew they were not just there to be entertained, but had a part to play in the bout themselves. They dragged Conlan to his feet and let him know they were with him over the last few rounds. They sensed their man was fragile and they looked to give him confidence while giving him every reason not to quit.
It wasn’t as loud as 16,000 at the Titanic or 9000 at The Point, but the support was unique and played a part beyond creating a party atmosphere. When Conlan was on all fours, it was obvious he had a choice to make, let the pain beat him, or bite down on the gum shield rise to his feet and fight on.
That massive roar made that choice easier for him and from that point on he knew he had 2000 plus behind him for the remainder of the fight. Boxing is a lonely sport, but Conlan had friends and people in the ring with him as he battled down the stretch.
He admitted the support was a defining feature post fight and said he couldn’t have got through it without the fans.
Get through it he did leaving the ring with swollen eyes, swollen lips, but his lumps and bumps are tiny in comparison to his balls and heart.
The MGM fighter got the kudos his cojones deserve post bout, but the part the crowd played in this clash can’t be under estimated. As we said earlier if Conlan was Batman rescuing Irish boxing Dublin fight fans played the part of Robin, his sidekick.
The 2000 plus in attendance helped ensure they will have more TV fight cards to enjoy in the coming years, thus providing a platform for a new Bernard Dunne to be born and for big time boxing to make a more permanent return to the capital.