Barnes and Conlan return to rapturous Belfast reception

Medal-winning boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan returned to Belfast to a rapturous reception from their supporters and family.

Hundreds packed the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction to welcome the bronze medallists home — including six former Olympians from the North.

Barnes 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 the island of 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, a member of 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 St close to the 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 said.

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


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