Brendan Irvine and Michael Conlan join the fray

Finally this weekend, halfway through the Olympic Games in Rio, Brendan Irvine and Michael Conlan join the party.

Brendan Irvine and Michael Conlan join the fray

Flyweight Irvine, the Belfast man they nicknamed “Wee Rooster”, and Conlan, the world and European bantamweight champion, have been twiddling their thumbs or hitting the sparring pads for eight days since the Opening Ceremony while their team-mates have disappeared from the tournament.

Gone before these two start have been Michael O’Reilly, the disgraced doper sent home, and the three beaten Irish: Joe Ward, David Oliver Joyce, and Paddy Barnes.

Now Irvine this afternoon and Conlan tomorrow afternoon get their chance to help Ireland’s boxing team leave Rio happy and with as many as the three medals won in Beijing eight years ago.

Just three men — Steve Donnelly has his third bout today — and defending champion Katie Taylor remain in contention, so the five medals won in London cannot be matched.

But three so far from home would be an achievement.

If we are to believe the team coaches — and Donnelly’s fine win yesterday supported it as evidence — the remaining boxers have not been affected by the disappointments of the others.

“It is an individual sport. They are being professional about it,” said John Conlan, Michael’s father and coach.

Most is expected from his son. Michael Conlan is seeded number one, a world, European, and Commonwealth champion at the same time, and enjoyed a bye in the first round.

He joins the tournament against unseeded Armenian Aram Avagyan, looking to become only the third boxer ever to win Olympic medals at both fly and bantam.

Avagyan, 25, won the bronze medal at the European championships last year where Conlan won gold, but they did not meet.

At the world championships where Conlan won all four of his fight unanimously, Avagyan was a distant 17th, a loser in the first round.

His father repeated the mantra that he has expounded for the last week. “There are no easy draws. It is the Olympic Games. Everybody here is good.”

History beckons for Conlan. He could become only the third boxer in Olympic history to medal in his two weights. The last to do it was a Hungarian Istvan Kovacs in 1992 and 1996.

Of course, still in the draw is the Cuban Victor Rodriguez, the fly winner in 2012, who has dropped here to sixth seed but could equal Conlan in the historic feat.

Irvine, the youngest member of the team at 19, was forced into a move up to the division in which Conlan won bronze in 2012, when Barnes qualified at 49kg.

“There is a lot of different things that go through your head. Happiness to be here but also sadness. I was 11 when I lost my daddy and he would have loved me to have got to an Olympic Games,” said Irvine.

None of his family are in Rio — “it’s far too dear for them” — but he says: “They’ll be with me every step.”

The first of those is against an Uzbecki Shakhobidin Zoirov, another unseeded fighter.

Donnelly is also fighting this afternoon after winning his opening two bouts on points. It is the toughest match of the tournament for him, against the world champion Mohammed Rabii, of Morocco, who fights with a defensive stance straight out of the amateur coaching manual.

Donnelly takes into the fight a left eye badly swollen in his last fight against Mongolian Tuvshinbat Byamba . A source yesterday confirmed it was a blow rather than a clash of heads, and said their medics were continuing to work on it. There is no chance he will miss out on his big moment.

“We are fully confident that he will be in his top form in the ring,” said press officer Nick Dawes.

While Ireland still look for their first boxing medal, their 2012 coach Billy Walsh, who was head-hunted by the US last autumn, was celebrating his first, a bronze won by light-fly Nico Hernandez.

The American boxers won six of their first seven fights but lost their two yesterday, Hernandes losing in his semi and Carlo Balderas Jr going out in the lightweight quarters.

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