John Conlan and Zaur Antia justly proud of Kellie Harrington’s success

Gold and bronze medals a fitting reward for combined efforts of Irish coaching team

Kellie Harrington celebrates with her coaches   Zaur Antia and  John Conlan following her gold medal win. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Kellie Harrington celebrates with her coaches Zaur Antia and John Conlan following her gold medal win. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Kellie Harrington is a giver, says John Conlan.

Nothing will change the experience of Rio and how disgracefully his son Michael was treated in 2016. For Conlan those memories have faded, replaced, he says, by Tokyo and all the memories that Harrington has given him; a gold medal and maybe even confidence back in his sport again.

“Yeah every day is a good day,” said Conlan. “You said about Rio, we don’t look back, it doesn’t define us as coaches.

“It actually made us stronger as coaches. It made us stronger, to deal with anything and we brought that experience into this team and this team have been the most resilient and phenomenal team we’ve ever worked with and it’s just been great as coaches, to be on that journey. It’s a great day.”

The 31-year-old Harrington and bronze medal winner Aidan Walsh have remapped Irish boxing and today Conlan’s needs are clear. He wants only to talk of Ireland’s gold medallist, who has captivated people, although, in a different, more engaged manner to the way Katie Taylor did in London 2012.

“She gives everything in training,” says Conlan. “She wants to succeed. She says she doesn’t but she does want to succeed. But then she’ll go back and do a night shift in the hospital.

“She’s amazing. She’s a great human being and it’s well deserved. The fact she doesn’t believe it makes it even better. In three days’ time she’ll wake up with a medal around her neck. She was brilliant.”

Conlan is one of three coaches in Tokyo with Zaur Antia and high-performance director Bernard Dunne. A former professional world champion, Dunne knows the feeling of winning big.

But he has also watched how Harrington earned the right to contest an Olympic final and how she matured with her talent to win it. Then to find a meeting place of the heart and mind to defuse Beatriz Ferreira’s power and aggression with nuance and poise was no less than revelatory.

Long road

“It is priceless,” said Dunne. “From the moment anybody takes boxing the dream is to become an Olympian firstly; then to become an Olympic medallist is amazing. But to become an Olympic gold medallist . . .

“My hairs are tingling on the back of my neck now just thinking about what she has achieved and done out there. But you know it has been a long road to get here. People see the nine minutes of work but the last 15 months has just been torture for us.

“The uncertainty when we left London [abandoned Olympic qualifiers]; the uncertainty of not being able to train and you are hearing about the potential that they are going to cancel them [the Olympics]. To maintain that focus and to maintain that ability to drive yourself in training and then to achieve an Olympic gold medal, I’m delighted for Kellie, delighted for the team. I’m not surprised.”

Antia is the Georgian tactician who settled in Bray and is regularly described as one of the best technical boxing trainers in the world. He’s a bear of a man and his eureka moment arrived a few days before Harrington took to the ring. It wasn’t pretty.

“Zaur came into my room two nights ago and he came running in in his underwear,” said Dunne. “He said ‘we got it. This plan, this is the plan’ because we had been watching video [of Ferreira]. But we got another video.

“It was a Korean opponent, there were those little bits in it that we have taken. And Kellie just implemented the tactical plan perfectly. The best thing Kellie has shown here is her focus and her concentration and her ability regardless of what the pressure is, to still perform.

“That last round was just . . . to be able to perform under that pressure it takes so much and she was able to maintain her focus and that was the most impressive thing I saw from her.”

Antia was in London for the good times and Rio for the bad times. He can’t live his life according to every boxing decision. So there’s a shrug and open hands for the poor decisions and a shrug and open hands for the good ones. How could he have been worried as Harrington lost the first round 3-2.

“In my opinion, John [Conlan] said we were down by one point and I was thinking it should be on our side. But she dealt with it,” says Antia in his unique patter.

“More work, more sidesteps, very good. More sharp attack, more feints, often change style and she cannot adapt. They didn’t know what to do. But once Kellie changed style, that plan disappeared. Everything worked very well. We had good chemistry in the corner.”

And good alchemy in the ring.

Tokyo 2020

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