Michael Conlan secured Ireland’s third medal at the 2012 Olympics following a three-round thriller with France’s Nordine Ouballi at the ExCel in London last night.
Both boxers were locked at 12-12 going into the third and final frame, but it was Conlan, who switched from orthodox to southpaw for the entire bout, that took the honours going down the final stretch on a 22-18 decision.
He now becomes the second boxer from the St John Bosco BC in Belfast to win an Olympic medal, following in the footsteps of Freddie Gilroy, who claimed bantamweight bronze at the 1956 Games in Melbourne.
Conlan also joins John Joe Nevin and Katie Taylor on the medals podium at London 2012.
The 20-year-old, who is guaranteed at least bronze, and Ouballi, who had dropped two decisions to the Irish Elite champion prior to tonight, went at it hammer and tongs for the opening three minutes, Conlan meeting his opponent’s constant aggression with some precision shots, one good right near the end of the round emphasising his insistence that he wasn’t going to be bullied out of this 52kg decider.
Conlan had a solid second round. Good head and foot movement, combined with two big right hooks, and one left kept his opponent guessing. The busy Ouballi, however, was still scoring in the inside. It finished honours even at 7-7.
It all came down to the final three minutes. Ouballi once again piled on the pressure, but Conlan, still boxing southpaw, and still maintaining his composure, starting popping in his jabs and firing home the most potent weapon in his arsenal, his right-hook, en route to claiming a 15th Olympic medal for Irish boxing since 1952.
“This is only me warming up. You haven’t seen the best of Michael Conlan yet,” said the triumphant Belfast ace after he made it a hat-trick of medals for Ireland at the 30th Olympiad.
“It was a really close fight. It was still level going into the third round. Billy (Walsh, Irish head coach) told me to go for it. I knew I had to and I dug deep.”
He’ll now face Cuba’s Robeisy Carrazana Ramirez in the semi-finals on Friday evening. John Joe Nevin also meets a Cuban opponent in the last-four on Friday.
Carrazana-Ramirez beat number 2 seed, Andrew Selby (Great Britain) 16-11 this evening. Selby edged out Conlan by a single point at the 2011 AIBA World Championships.
Tonight’s win sees the 2012 Olympic squad match the medal haul from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where Ken Egan, Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes won Ireland’s only medals in all sports.
Barnes will be in quarter-final action tomorrow night. If he emerges victorious then he will become the first Irish boxer in the 101-year history of the IABA to claim two Olympic medals.
Katie Taylor is between the ropes this afternoon. If Taylor and Barnes win then the 2012 squad will have matched the record haul of one silver and three bronze medals the Irish boxing team took home from the 1956 games in Melbourne.
Meantime, Irish team manager Des Donnelly described Conlan as an “uncut diamond” at the 2011 AIBA World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Well, we can now drop the uncut part.