John Conlan on O’Reilly: ‘He shocked us, embarrassed the country, embarrassed boxing’

Irish coach scathing over failed drugs test after watching son win opening bout in Rio

Michael Conlan’s father and coach John, a Dubliner who moved to Belfast in the 1980s, spoke candidly for the first time of his disappointment and the team’s difficulty adjusting to the early losses and the sending home of middleweight Michael O’Reilly for a drugs offence.

O’Reilly failed a drugs test, was removed from the Irish boxers, suspended and sent home. He is now awaiting the outcome of a hearing and a likely ban.

The Irish coach, who watched his son come through the first round of his bantamweight contest to earn a quarterfinal place, was scathing about what occurred.

“One hundred per cent,” said John agreeing that it was a difficult week. “We came here, we had a devastating start to this tournament. I’m not going to go over it too much, but that guy (Michael O’Reilly) didn’t train with us - he hasn’t been with us for eight weeks.


“We met him in the airport. He wasn’t part of my team. He arrived in there, shocked us, embarrassed the country, embarrassed boxing, embarrassed AIBA.

“We had to deal with it.”

Having to deal with it brought them right up to Michael’s fight with enormous pressure on for the World Champion just to get a win although in the beginning it didn’t seem like that.

On the big screen in the Riocentro Arena the camera focussed in on the infant with ‘Good Luck Daddy’ on the back of a tiny tee shirt. Held up by his partner Shauna, Michael Conlan’s daughter Luisne made the trip.

The World Champion bantamweight peered up and saw the message.

"It kind of took the seriousness away from me," he said afterwards. Then he went into a three round war against Armenia's Aram Avagyan.

Neither he nor his father had planned that strategy for his first bout of the Rio Olympics. It was to be a mid to long range bout with Conlan using his superior boxing skills, staying out of trouble and out boxing his opponent for a bronze medal fight on Tuesday against Russia's Vladimir Nikitin.

Instead, as Conlan explained, his head told him to do one thing, his legs another and during a first messy round, which Conlan clearly won, the fear of clashing heads, deliberate or not, became a real threat.

Conlan won his Commonwealth gold medal with a ferocious cut that would prevent him continuing at the Olympics and earlier this year in Lithuania was stopped because of a cut.

Perhaps the fear was unjustified. But coming after Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward's early departures as well as Brendan Irvine and Stephen Donnelly losing over the weekend and reducing the Irish team to just two, Katie Taylor and Conlan, the fear was real.

In that context the first fight after the scarred battle ground of last week was bound to be nervous and worrisome. There’s no doubting Michael Conlan’s ability but he had been sitting around and without a competitive fight since May. The Irish team arrived in Rio on July 19th and every day has been a waiting game for him in an ever diminishing team.

However, Conlan won this one unanimously, although, the 24-year-old had to work hard for it.

But from the first upper cut at the beginning of the first round that came cutting up under Avagyan’s defence, Conlan was scoring at will.

He was taking a few shots back and the Armenian’s head was bobbing around dangerously but with his combinations and better accuracy in the messy exchanges Conlan won the first two rounds 10-9 on all three judge’s cards.

Avagyan then need something special in the third round but Conlan was too good without being impressive. He was scoring freely but going toe to toe brings its own dangers, although none of it was match threatening.

Only the Sri Lankan judge scored the third round against the Irish fighter in an overall unanimous decision.

“It was probably one of my worst performances in recent times. I got dragged into a war. I’ve been waiting out here since July 19th”, said the boxer in his defence.

“It has been a long, long time. I wanted to box him today. I got dragged into a war which was pretty stupid by me. But I knew I could outfight him. I knew I could outbox him when I needed to. My head said outbox him, my legs said fight him.

“I was in situations that I shouldn’t have been in, getting head butts and risking cuts. I’ve been cut in recent times. I’ve put pictures up on Twitter which was probably stupid to be going on about them. It is what it is.”

He faces Nikitin in a morning session on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times