Seconds Out: Clonard's Conor Quinn hopes to follow Michael Conlan's example
KURT WALKER was the last Irish fighter to return home with a medal from the World Youth Championships when he landed bronze in Yerevan four years ago.
Two years previous, Joe Ward (gold) and Belfast’s Ryan Burnett (silver) stole the show in Baku as the good times started to roll. Unfortunately, that run came to an abrupt end in 2014 as Ireland came home empty-handed, despite some decent performances.
This time, under the guidance of John Conlan and Billy McClean, the aim is to get as many fighters as possible back on the podium. Conor Quinn is one of those with dreams of world domination ahead of the 2016 edition of the World Youth Championships, which get under way in St Petersburg next Monday and run until November 27.
The Clonard flyweight has had a year to remember after being sidelined for much of 2015 with a broken nose, winning the Irish U18s and starring at the prestigious Black Forest Cup for an Ulster High Performance select.
But making it to Russia was always the number one priority and Quinn - currently at a training camp in Moscow alongside Cuba and the host nation - is determined to grab this opportunity with both hands.
“For about a year-and-a-half I’ve been set on this. I knew if everything went to plan I would get there,” said the 18-year-old, who represented Ireland at the European Schoolboy and Junior Championships in 2012 and '13 respectively.
“Obviously it’s bigger than any competition I’ve ever boxed in but I’m going with the same attitude as for anything else - I’m going there to win the gold medal.
“If you don’t go in there believing you’re the best in the world, you won’t become the best in the world. The people I have around me, my club coaches Paddy and Peter Graham, from day one they’ve always told I’m going to be a world champion, number one. Now, I have the chance to go and shine and prove them right.”
That kind of confident talk is reminiscent of another fighter who once represented the west Belfast club. Michael Conlan fought for Clonard at the beginning and end of a glorious amateur career that saw him become the first Irishman to win gold at the World Championships, as well as landing Olympic bronze at London 2012.
Having since signed a major deal with top US promoters Top Rank, Conlan isn’t a bad role model to have. And the Olympic bronze medallist showed his support for the latest talent to emerge from the Clonard stable by sponsoring Quinn ahead of his trip to Russia.
“Mick came down to a fundraiser at the club and sorted me out big time, so fair play to him. He didn’t have to do that,” said Quinn.
“I only live a few streets away from him so, even when he was boxing for [St John] Bosco, I would always have been watching him and learning different things from him.
Picture by Philip Walsh
“He was the number one amateur bantamweight in the world, so you can’t get much better than that for sparring at the club when he’s home. It’s been unbelievable.
“You also learn from the way he carries himself. Mick has a bulletproof mindset - he’s always been number one and he went and proved it. Taking things from people like Mick, it builds you up towards these competitions.”
And with the step up to senior boxing only around the corner, Quinn could soon find himself in direct opposition to one of Conlan’s Irish team-mates from last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Brendan Irvine is the current 52kg king, and Quinn knows the 20-year-old St Paul’s fighter will be hard to shift: “Brendy’s another west Belfast boxer so there’s a lot of competition - even on the road," he said.
“But that’s what we’re aiming for. If he’s still at 52 and I’m still boxing at 52, hopefully I’ll meet him one day at the seniors. He’s only a year or two older than me in terms of age, but in boxing terms he’s at the top with the experience he’s got in recent years.
“You could only learn from going in with a Rio Olympian and somebody who’s done so well on the European and World stage, so we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully one day I’ll be at that level.”
THERE is a cracking night of action in store at Oliver Plunkett on Friday as the club holds a special boxing show featuring some top-quality fighters.
As well as the host club, there will also be boxers from Holy Trinity, Star, North Down, East Down and Patsy Quinn, with the first of up to 15 bouts taking place at 7.30pm.
Topping the bill is the fight between Adam Taylor (Oliver Plunkett) and Patsy Quinn’s Adam Weatherall, while the host club’s Matthew James against Star’s Sean McCarthy could also be a lively encounter.
THE Irish squad bound for the European Elite Women’s Championships depart for Sofia on Saturday, having just returned from a training camp at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
Team Ireland was training with England and Wales in the Steel city ahead of the opening bell in the Bulgarian capital on Sunday. Tipperary lightweight Shauna O’Keeffe will wear the Irish lightweight vest in Sofia in place of Katie Taylor.
The Bray woman would have been aiming for seven in-a-row in the Bulgarian capital but announced a fortnight ago that she was switching to the professional ranks after a decorated amateur career.
World number four ranked Kellie Harrington lines out at 64kg and Irish Youth Olympian Christina Desmond carries the country’s middleweight hopes at the last AIBA ranking tournament of 2016.
The Cork southpaw recorded one notable victory this year after stunning Holland’s World number two Nouchka Fontijn at the European Olympic qualifiers earlier this year.
A few months after that defeat, Fontijn was beaten by America’s two-time Olympic champion Claressa Shields in the Rio 2016 Olympic final: “Europe is obviously a very strong boxing continent and we’re all expecting tough competition in Sofia,” said Desmond, the current Irish Elite champion who claimed Ireland’s first medal at the World University Championships in Thailand last month.
“We know that the Europeans are going to be very competitive and we’re under no illusion about that, but the squad are preparing very well and we’re quietly confident.”
48kg: L Hogan (St Brigid’s, Edenderry); 51kg: D Barr (Twin Towns); 54kg: D Duffy (Mulhuddart); 57kg: M McElliggot (St Michael’s, Athy); 60kg: S O’Keeffe (Clonmel); 64kg: K Harrington (Glasnevin); 69kg: G Walsh (Sparticus); 75kg: C Desmond (Fr Horgan’s); team manager: N Glendening; physio: C Gilmore; coaches: Z Antia, E Bolger, D Dimitruk; R&J: S Duffy.
COUNTY Antrim will send a seven-man senior team to a three-day tournament in Greece on Wednesday.
Bantamweight Ben Nelson (Townland), lightweight Conor Kerr (Glengormley), light-welter Mosa Kambule (Lisburn), light-heavyweights John Meli (Immaculata) and Tom Kearney (Townland), and super-heavyweights Martin McCoey (Dockers) and Padraig Mooney (Clonard) will be in Patras until Sunday.
THE men’s and women’s national senior championships, formerly intermediates, begin at Dublin’s National Stadium on Friday night.
Boxing is scheduled to take place on Friday and Saturday for the following weekends, with the weigh-in this Friday (8.30am-10am and 12pm-1pm) and then from 8am-9am daily.