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14th Aug 2016

Michael Conlan has dismissed the importance of Billy Walsh to the Irish boxing team

" We're here for gold and the fact Billy's not in the corner doesn't count for anything"

Robert Redmond

Michael Conlan cruised through his opening fight of the Rio Olympics.

The Belfast boxer scored a comfortable, impressive victory over Armenia’s Aram Avagyan on Sunday afternoon, earning a unanimous decision from the judges, and setting up a medal bout against Russian Vladimir Nikitin on Tuesday.

Following his victory, Conlan addressed the Irish media, and took the opportunity to dismiss suggestions that the boxing team are suffering since coach Billy Walsh departed for the United States last summer.

Ireland’s boxers endured a difficult opening week of the Olympics, with just Conlan and Katie Taylor remaining of the eight boxers that went to Rio.

This has led to some suggesting that the relative poor performance of the team – compared to the fantastic success of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics – is related to Walsh’s departure.

Conlan outright refuted such notions and largely dismissed the importance of Walsh to the Irish team, while offering an impassioned defence of coach Zaur Antia.

“Every single media person here keeps going on about Billy Walsh,” the 24-year-old told the Irish media after his last-16 win.

“It is getting annoying for boxers, because Zaur Antia has always been the main man and always will be the main man.

“I’m looking forward to Zaur bringing me to the Olympic gold medal and my father [John] being in my corner. He’s always been the main man and always will be the main man.”

Michael Conlan, John Conlan and Zaur Antia 14/8/2016

Walsh oversaw unprecedented success for Irish amateur boxing.

Since 2008, when he effectively took charge of the High Performance Programme, Irish amateurs have won seven Olympic medals, as well as numerous world and European titles.

The Wexford native has also tasted success in Rio, and was seen in the corner of American boxer Nico Hernandez, who secured a bronze medal at the Games – the first Olympic medal for a male United States boxer since 2008.

Nico Hernandez with Billy Walsh 10/8/2016

However, Conlan dismissed suggestions that Walsh has had a positive effect on the US boxing team, saying: “I don’t think Billy’s loss is USA’s gain. The scoring system and the professional boxing style is suiting the USA boxers a lot more.”

“They’re trained by their pro coaches back home. I don’t think we’ve lost much. It is what it is. We’re here for gold and the fact Billy’s not in the corner doesn’t count for anything.”

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