John Conlan has admitted he has made the tough decision not to fly home to cheer on son Michael in his comeback fight tonight, stressing that it is important for him to be with the Team NI boxers over the weekend in their quest to win gold medals at the Commonwealth Games.
Onlan is the highly respected Team Performance Lead for the Northern Ireland boxing squad in Birmingham and is a major influence on the fighters along with Head Coach Damian Kennedy and the rest of the backroom staff.
Over the course of Saturday in the NEC Arena, a magnificent seven Team NI boxers will be in the Games Semi-Finals — Eireann Nugent, Carly McNaul, Dylan Eagleson, Amy Broadhurst, Aidan Walsh, Jude Gallagher and Michaela Walsh — with Finals on Sunday , while on Saturday in Belfast Michael Conlan will step back into the ring against Miguel Marriaga following his devastating world title loss to Leigh Wood in March.
Back in 2014, one of the most memorable moments of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games was proud dad John hugging his son after Michael had won gold for Northern Ireland.
Eight years on at the Games, he will be watching his boy fight in a potential world title eliminator from afar hoping by then that all of the Team NI performers have made it to the gold medal contests.
“It’s important that I’m here for this team. It’s a huge weekend for us,” stated Conlan.
“It was a really tough decision. I was hoping it was going to work out that I’d be able to get over then fly back the next day, but it’s crazy to have three sessions on the Semis and then an early morning session on the Sunday — I told Michael I won ‘t get over.
“But you know what, I raised all my children to be independent. He doesn’t need me there, I’ll speak to him on the phone, I’ll watch him here. I spoke to him when I was in Tokyo at the Olympics (last August when Michael was fighting TJ Doheny in Belfast), he was in Chicago, in Australia… it ain’t going to change whether I’m there or not.”
Conlan snr has been a force in Northern Ireland boxing for almost a decade and as Ulster High Performance Director is an inspirational character to youngsters with big dreams.
Asked about his influence on the success of NI teams in that period, a love of boxing, rather than personal glory, shines through.
He said: “I think I’d be very egotistical if I thought I was the big man able to do it. What we have is really good kids, hard-working kids, and it’s very difficult at the moment in an age of mobile phones, TV channels, you can order anything or watch anything — kids don’t really need sport any more.
“Boxing is really crucial for the young kids in the community to get involved in. Eighty per cent of the kids who train have probably never gone on and boxed in an international fight but have learned fundamentals and had a really good experience.
“The clubs are where we’re really strong, we’ve got good structures with Antrim and the Ulster Council now, working really closely together and they buy into the high performance.
“This is a really good opportunity for us to work with them, and then we just polish them off. It’s not rocket science. It’s the fundamentals of boxing. The kids are key, teach them the fundamentals, expose them to good international styles, international training camps, competition at different levels to develop them and by the time they reach senior age they have a good background in boxing.”
On the performance so far at the Games, Team NI Head Coach Kennedy stated: “It’s a great achievement. All our boxers have loads of ability. I said before we came here we were going to shock — I think we’ve shocked them already but we’re not finished. Ask each and every one of them who are through to the Semi-Final what their dreams and aspirations are, and it’s a gold medal.
“They have a great morale, seven of them together making weight for the Semi-Final, they’re driving each other on.”