Northern Ireland head coach John Conlan expects more from his history-making boxing team as they head into Friday’s Commonwealth Games semi-finals – with nine medals already guaranteed.
Only two team members – Steven Ward and Ruari Dalton – have fallen by the wayside as Northern Ireland’s blend of experience and youth has eclipsed the success of rival nations such as England and India in Glasgow.
Conlan, father of Olympic bronze medallist Michael who is one of the nine guaranteed at least bronze, says the mindset of the team has changed since they earned five medals – including three golds – in Delhi four years ago.
“To me, we’re one of the best nations in world boxing and this has been a good stage for boxers from Northern Ireland to show off their skills,” Conlan said.
“Boxing in Northern Ireland has always been very strong – there used to be a joke that we had lots of heart but no technique. Now we have technique and heart.
“We came here for 11 gold medals and I don’t see why we cannot go on now and get nine. Bronze isn’t enough and I never asked any of them to enter the Commonwealth Games to win bronze. Gold is all that matters.”
Conlan and fellow Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes have set a sterling example to their team-mates, and middleweight Connor Coyle believes the spirit in the camp has proved crucial to their success.
“Everybody is backing each other up and the vibe in the house is just wonderful,” Coyle said.
“Everybody wants to go out and fight and do the business. We keep telling each other we are better than any other team here and we have proved it.”
As well as Barnes, Conlan and Coyle, there are also guaranteed medals for light-welterweight Sean Duffy, light-heavyweight Sean McGlinchy, welterweight Steven Donnelly and lightweight Joe Fitzpatrick.
In addition, Alanna Audley-Murphy is guaranteed at least bronze in the women’s lightweight category while 21-year-old Michaela Walsh – a club-mate of Barnes – is gunning for a women’s flyweight final showdown with Nicola Adams.
Conlan cannot speak highly enough of Walsh, whom he believes can go on to eclipse even the achievements of Olympic and four-time world champion Katie Taylor.
“Michaela is going to be one of the stars of women’s boxing,” Conlan said. “She wakes up shadow-boxing and she loves the game.
“I think she’s going to be better than Katie. She wanted to fight Nicola Adams in the first round and if it happens in the final it is going to be a great fight.”