You could feel a sense of pride surrounding the room as the four Northern Irish Olympic boxers took to the stage one final time before heading off to Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.
Joined by past Olympians, family and friends, the boxers looked happy and relaxed as the crowd enjoyed some Q&A with the guys on stage.
Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, who are going into their 3rd and 2nd Olympics respectively, looked comfortable being surrounded by the media. Both took home Bronze medals in London 2012. As new as it was to them, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly looked unfazed as they all laughed and joked about the past couple of months training camp.
“We all get on with the Irish team, but the Belfast boys and the one Ballymena man, the outsider, sort of stick together,” joked Michael Conlan referring to Steven Donnelly being the only one not from Belfast.
The boxing talent in Ireland is undeniable and growing by the year. Out of a fantastic and well-respected Ireland team of eight going to Rio 2016, four are from Northern Ireland – which is an exceptional achievement when you consider the size of both countries.
“When I qualified for the Olympics I was just happy to be there, but when I look at these guys they are focused, driven and every single one of them are capable of bringing home a medal,” stated former WBA Super Middleweight champion Brian Magee.
Over the last few months, arguments have been made and the AIBA have been widely criticised about their announcement to let a selection of professional boxers enter the Olympics. Carl Froch and David Haye are among the professionals who have been outspoken about the topic.
“I’ve said it before, there isn’t a professional in the world who could beat me over 3 rounds,” stated Conlan, who became the first Irish male to win a World Championship last year at the 2015 AIBA World Boxing Championships.
Indeed, all the guys agreed that amateurs are at an advantage given the fast paced, explosive boxing over three rounds compared to a slower pace over the longer 12 round distance for professionals.
Barnes, who is never shy of an opinion, spoke out about the professional golfers citing the reason they weren’t representing Ireland was all about the Zika Virus.
“It’s all about money. I’d respect them more if they just came out and said it. The gold medal should be motivation enough, well it is for me anyway.”
Throughout history, the Irish have been oppressed and fighting their entire lives through the generations. It was inevitable that once there was a pinch of talent thrown in the mix that they would succeed. The 2016 Olympic boxing team is proof of this.
Good luck to all of the guys; not just the boxing team, but anybody representing Ireland in the Olympic games.
Joining Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly are Katie Taylor, David Joyce, Joe Ward and Michael O’Reilly.
Chris Magee, Pundit Arena