IRELAND’S BABY-FACED bronze medallist won’t stop until he’s at the top, the family of Belfast boxer Michael Conlan said as they welcomed their hero home on Monday afternoon.
One of the youngest members of the Irish squad, 20-year-old Conlan punched his way into the national spotlight by winning flyweight bronze before losing to eventual champion Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana in the Olympic semi-finals.
His father and coach John said that he was “over the moon” with Michael’s achievement while older brother Jamie, himself a professional boxer, joked: “He’s still our wee brother so we can still beat him up.”
The family were ever-presents for the bouts in London’s ExCeL Arena and Jamie conceded that the nerves got to him as Michael moved towards the medals.
“It was emotional. I didn’t think it would be,” he told TheScore.ie at the team’s airport homecoming. “The first time I was pretty calm but then I was a nervous wreck when he fought the French guy [Nordine Oubaali in the quarter-finals].”
Michael’s reaction to that win — which guaranteed him a bronze medal at minimum — came as a bit of a surprise.
“You never see him get emotional,” said Jamie. “Even when he qualified for the Olympics he just put his hand up and went over and hugged Billy. He just started jumping around and going crazy.”
“The gold medal meant everything to him. It was our father — he never let us win anything as kids.”
John added: “He’s very reserved normally and keeps his emotions to himself but he kinda let it out of him a wee bit. I think he realised in a split second that he’d achieved part of his dream in getting an Olympic medal — not the gold, but getting a medal.
Although few knew his name this time last year, the success of one of the country’s top young talents was no surprise to those in the know, his family least of all.
“I’ve always said to everyone who would listen to me since he was about 14 that he’s the best boxer I’ve ever seen,” Jamie said. “Even when he was that young he was doing things men couldn’t do, and then he finally showed how good he really was.
“I even still think he didn’t show his top class at the Olympics there. He still has another gear to go and hopefully over the next few years we’ll get a chance to see it.
“He said to me straight after, ‘I know I can beat that Cuban in different ways.’ Straight away, his confidence was still there. It hasn’t knocked his confidence and he’s already thought of a different way to beat him.
“He should stay for Rio. It’s only four years away and he gets better every day because he tries something different every day. He tries to learn every day.”
But before eyes turn to Rio and thoughts of 2016, it’s time to savour the memories of a remarkable few weeks in London.
“Relax, debrief, enjoy himself and enjoy the limelight,” John said when asked of Michael’s future plans, “because it only lasts for a while and then he’s getting back into the gym and starting to work again.
“Michael’s a well-grounded kid. We’ll not let him get a big head and if he does, it’ll be deflated pretty quickly.”