Armchair Reporter: If you're Irish, come into the Madison Square Garden with Michael Conlan
IT couldn’t have been any more Oirish if St Patrick himself had been led into the ring from a parlour by a legion of leprechauns and rebel snakes while munching a feed of spuds from a blarney stone and gargling a gallon of poitín with Guinness chasers, to be sure.
Big Daddy Bunce was at the Box Nation wheel for the craic, frothing like a Wolfhound on ribs, cabbage and champ ahead of Michael ‘Mick’ Conlan’s pro debut deep in the raucous basement of Madison Square Garden.
There wasn’t a middle finger to be seen in ‘the Theater’ all St Patrick’s night long either. This was pure and utter joyful razzmatazz with fadas over every single Z.
Buncey counted in and around 5,102 lubricated fans swinging the shindig of all shindigs inside the famous venue’s basement.
Conlan’s Olympics nightmare last summer was now giving way to box-fresh dreams of conquering the world minus the amateur vest.
Green strobes lit up the whole joint as a clique of exhausted Irish dancers set the scene, jigging, reeling and bumping into each other too often for comfort inside the ring as Buncey briefly worried for their welfare, albeit roaring them on.
“You have to remember this is 9.30 at night in New York, they’ve been dancing for eight or nine hours already!” he boomed.
“The big lad there looks close to delirious. Let’s not mince our words. He is close to collapse! Look at this boy! Go on my son! Put it down! Beautiful, beautiful!”
It was soon over to MC Míceál Ní Buffer to get everyone readddddy to rummmble begorrrrrrah, an extra thick coat of Ronseal on his lid completing a tidy tricolour with his green tie and starched white shirt.
Young Belfast guitarist Joe McVeigh knocked out an acoustic ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ to send the Conlan fans bóógalóó, while local songstress Marissa Ann’s stirring ‘Star Spangled Banner’ lost a split decision to the crowd’s Olé, Olé, Olé. Marissa just about held herself back from flicking ‘the bird’ to the cameras.
Conlan’s opponent amid all this was former jailbird Tim Ibarra. The 4-4 Denver native, possibly named after an old An Phoblacht pseudonym, oddly opted to wear a pair of 12 denier tights under his shorts. Absolute scenes and then some. You could virtually hear Paddy Barnes slegging the life clean out of the Colorado kid at ringside.
Conlan’s ringwalk was then off the scale. NYPD Emerald Society pipers led the procession before juiced-up strains of ‘Grace’ gave way to a mash-up medley of ‘Olé, Olé’, ‘the ‘Soldier’s Song’ and blood-boiling Horslips classic ‘Dearg Doom’.
‘Ooh Ahh Ibarra’ screamed the oiled and patriotic masses, or at least something closely resembling it. The atmosphere at the Garden was dynamite at this point, if you’ll excuse the reference to explosives – a wee bit like upstairs in the Felons club during an Old Firm match.
Conlan then emerged sporting a glitzy leprechaunic hat, obviously borrowed from the late Apollo Creed’s dressing-up box and suitably modified for the night that was in it. A green velvet and silk-trimmed waistcoat, tricoloured gloves and shamrocked shorts completed what was a fairly Irish look for the exciting Falls Road super-bantam hope.
MMA star Conor McGregor, chief tricolour waver for the night, decided on a black fur overcoat and a pair of Deirdre Barlow’s oul’ glasses, mainly because he’s Conor McGregor.
“I believe he personally chased and strangled a bear for a week like the Revenant to get that coat,” reckoned Buncey.
Either that or he broke into Joan Collins’s gaff and helped himself to her best pluck, wondered others.
It was now time to fight. Ibarra barely threw a dig for fear of laddering his lovely tights, while a slightly frenzied and impatient Conlan went in search of the big finish right from the get-go.
‘The Fields of Anthenry’ rung out and ‘Ooh Ah Ibarra’ (or similar) got another wee turn. Three rounds in and it was all over, the referee stepping in to save Ibarra from eating canvas before a superstar in the making bounced onto the ropes, arms outstretched to his people.
McGregor, fresh from a slabbering match/friendly chinwag with Russian digger Sergey Kovalev over who had the best coat, bounded into the ring to milk a little more attention. Conlan and Top Rank money man Bob Arum hugged and smiled and Buncey and his boys in the studio were thick in their praise of Conlan, ‘the fighting pride of all Ireland’.
“It was special... we had Niall Horan from One Direction here with us and everything,” reflected Conlan, sounding ever so slightly like the Pocket Rocket, Paulie Walnuts and G-Mac rolled into one.
Michael Conlan, it would appear, is heading all the way to the top. One Direction and everything indeed.