Boxing

"I Used To Be Very Selfish. Now I Want To Have The Best Life For My Daughter"

"I Used To Be Very Selfish. Now I Want To Have The Best Life For My Daughter"

Four years ago, Michael Conlan stood in a ring in London having just lost the biggest fight of his young life and told himself it would not happen again.

He enjoyed the celebrations in Dublin and Belfast with his close friend Paddy Barnes and the two smiled their way through the following months and the wave of adulation carrying them along. Olympic bronze medalists are a rare commodity in Ireland.

But the two had unfinished business at the Olympics.

Conlan returns to the Olympic stage four years on as the Number 1 bantamweight boxer in the world at 'amateur' level (he dislikes the term) having obliterated all opposition on his way to Commonwealth, European and World titles over the last two years. The Belfast man doesn't consider it a mere possibility that he will return to Irish shores in August with gold around his neck. Rather, he refuses to consider any alternative outcome ("I'm not being over-confident, I just believe that I'm going to win it") and is anticipating that his previous experience will help him both personally and in his probable role as captain and leader of the team.

It (experience) is a massive help, going into London I had only boxed for Ireland for one year. (The level of) experience difference will play a big part. I'm a world champion, vastly experienced.

I was the captain in Doha when I won gold. So if I can bring that into Rio, I feel I will always try to give a hand to those who need it-not only those (in the Olympics for the) first time.

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As the Irish public prepare to embrace another group of Olympians, a familiar phenomenon will manifest itself: the brief glimmer of recognition for athletes who have a short window every four years to briefly staple their names onto the nation's consciousness. At least before the banalities and distractions of life make the average man forget all about the heroic Irishman or woman who overcame all manner of strife to place thirteenth in the canoe slalom.

Conlan is one of the few Olympic athletes who have retained their places in our minds, and yet when he fights in Rio it will be the first time in four years that most members of the public will have seen him fight. They will see an individual utterly removed from the man of four years ago, and not only regarding his ring craftmanship.

The birth of his daughter last year has changed Conlan's entire philosophy about why he steps into a boxing ring. Every time he climbs through the ropes there is a meaning beyond himself to it.

She has changed my whole sporting career. My whole life. She is my drive now. I used to be very selfish. You weren’t doing it for your mother, your father, you were doing it for yourself.

I want to have the best life for my daughter.

Last month saw the world say goodbye to the greatest fighter it has ever known, whose life was a cruel epitome of both sides of the sport; whose slow deterioration provided an uncomfortable and constant reminder of the toll boxing takes on its brave practitioners. Conlan acknowledges that fatherhood brings into stark view the need to 'get out' while one still has one's health.

(Having a child) makes me think how long I want to stay in the sport for, the amateur game, how long I want to be a pro for. My aim is to have everything intact (when I retire)...and to be very wealthy.

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Boxing is a very subtle art form. There are perhaps few boxers whose skill can be truly appreciated by the common or unschooled punter. The subtle head movements, the almost invisible moves designed to discreetly lure an opponent and then pick them off. But to watch Michael Conlan in action is to observe true sporting mastery. Conlan can scrap, he can box. He can fight southpaw or orthodox. Woe betide the opponent tasked with picking a hole in the 24-year-old's defences. Perhaps this dominance of his sport is why he admits that while he has huge "respect" for MMA practitioners, he would be reluctant to risk competing in it. Yet Conlan gave an intriguingly open answer when pressed on whether he would ever consider competing in an octagon rather than a ring.

(The boxing squad would do it) when we were messing about, having wee wrestling fights in the hotel...It’s quite tough to do. I hate getting kicked- I wince every time I think of shins hitting shins. To be able to go in there and use however many sports of combat...if things change, it might be something I look at in the future.

For now, though, Conlan's mind couldn't be further from rear naked chokes or leg locks. Eyes are turned to Rio, and Conlan flies there representing not just Ireland, but Belfast as well. The city is proud of its sports stars and Conlan is a figure who unites it in its love for its home-grown Olympians. He admits that occasionally he feels the "pressure" of representing his home city but doesn't feel as if he represents one 'side' or the other when it comes to his nationality or religion:

Boxing is a sport that brings people together. I’m an equal person, so it doesn’t bother me. I have a lot of friends who are Protestants, who are Catholic.

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And what of the aftermath of Rio? When Conlan reaches the crest of the hill, he'll pause for breath before the winding, cobbled path of professionalism beckons him in.

I have to enjoy myself. This has been a long four years. It is my eighteenth year in the sport. I want to take about two months off, just with my daughter. It’s been absolutely hectic.

I didn’t get to enjoy my holidays much...it’s been very tough. I want to take time out, enjoy it with my family...and eat like a normal person, which a lot of top sportspeople can’t do.

Enjoy the simple things in life.

Then Conlan turns to discuss post-professionalism, when he has removed his gloves for the last time. When his fists perhaps aren't quite as fast, his legs don't bounce quite like they used to, his reactions respond that little bit slower. There is a gorgeous simplicity to Conlan's view of his future after boxing, a view refracted through the prism of the person he loves most. When his time in boxing is up, what then for him and his young family?

The world is our oyster. We can do anything we want.

Lord knows, he'll have earned it.

****

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Electric Ireland, the Official Energy Partner of Team Ireland for the Rio Olympics, has today released a unique 360 degree video featuring Michael Conlan, as part of its sponsorship campaign, #ThePowerWithin

Follow the stories at facebook.com/ElectricIreland and twitter.com/ElectricIreland and #ThePowerWithin.

SEE ALSO: 18 Minutes In Venezuela To Decide Ray Moylette's Rio Dream

Conall Cahill

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