Belfast boxers pay tribute to fans




Medal-winning boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan returned to Belfast tonight to a rapturous reception from supporters and family and thanked the fans for urging them on to glory.

Hundreds packed the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction to welcome the bronze medallists home – including six former Olympians from Northern Ireland.

Barnes became the first boxer from the country to win medals at successive Olympics and paid tribute to the fans for their support.

“The atmosphere during the fight was unreal,” he said.

Conlan added: “The support back home was amazing, every fight it was brilliant - you could not hear yourself in the ring.”

Barnes, 25, who also won bronze in Beijing, became the first boxer from Ireland to win medals at consecutive Games.

He said: “It has been amazing, it has done so much for Irish boxing. We can both go to Rio and get the gold.”

Conlan, 20, who is a member of west Belfast’s St John Bosco club, won his first medal in his Olympic debut.

Barnes and Conlan waded through a crowd straining to get a glimpse of the stars, signing posters and cards, maintaining a sense of humour while looking tired after days of effort.

Barnes’s father, Paddy, said: “They are just shattered.”

Conlan’s grandfather, Joe Strong, was also there to hug his grandson.

Six former Olympians were among hundreds who turned out to greet them.

They included John McNally, who took silver in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki; Freddie Gilroy, who won bronze in 1956, making world headlines at the height of the Cold War by knocking out a Russian; Jim McCourt, who took bronze in Tokyo in 1964; and Hugh Russell who won bronze in 1980 in Moscow. Olympians Jim Montague, who competed in 1972, and David Larmour, who took part in 1976, were also present.

Gilroy clutched his medal in a tiny box.

McNally, from west Belfast, the first medal winner from the city, said: “Belfast is a fighting town, we are more interested in boxing, we still do have more clubs.

“When I was doing it there was nothing else to do, only football, so it is unbelievable the changes now.”

He fought from a gym in York Street close to the city centre and said boxing crossed sectarian boundaries.

“There never was any divide in my day, there was no such thing as a Protestant boxing club and a Catholic one,” he added.

Barnes and Conlan will ride through the centre of the city in an open-top bus tomorrow.

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