Barnes & Conlan qualify for Rio Olympics
Olympic bronze medallists Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan are bound for the Rio Olympics next summer after a remarkable final night of drama in the World Boxing Series.
While most of the nation slept all the action unfolded in two different venues in the Americans, the Venezuelan port city of Maiqueta and San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico.
And it produced a finale just as tense and exciting as the end of this year's Six Nations Rugby championship.
Twenty year old Paddy Barnes had the more straight-forward task.
Unbeaten in his six previous bouts in the light fly weight division in the WSB series a win of any kind would guarantee him top spot in the rankings and secure the single Olympic spot on offer.
Boxing for the Italian Thunder franchise, Barnes duly delivered against 18 year old local favourite Finol Rivas.
Barnes, who has won bronze medals in his two previous Olympic appearances in 2008 and 2012, set the tone in the first round when he knocked down his opponent.
He was the dominant figure throughout the fight, though the British judge Raymond Morley contrived to give the verdict to Rivas (48-47).
The other two judges, however, gave the nod to Barnes by comprehensive margins (49-45; 49-46).
The four ranking points Barnes earned for the split win took him one point clear of his nearest rival Hasanboy Dusmatov from Uzbekistan and thus he became the first Irish boxer to qualify for three successive Olympic Games.
Coincidentally he was also the first Irish boxer to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and of course, he has only ever lost two bouts at the Games - both to the eventual gold medallist Zou Shiming.
Spare a thought, however, for Dusmatov. Like Barnes, he won six of his fights with unanimous verdicts but in his other scheduled fight his opponent didn't turn up and so he only earned three ranking points which ultimately proved crucial in the race for a place in Rio.
Having lost two fights in the series, Michael Conlan's hopes of reaching his second successive Olympics via the WSB hung in the balance.
On the plus side there were two places available in his bantamweight category, but Conlan had to win in Maiqeuta on a unanimous decision and hope that his closest rival Magomed Gurbanov from Azerbaijan, who was won his previous five fights on unanimous decisions would lose in his final bout to Hictor Garcia from Puerto Rico.
The two bouts took place simultaneously in Venezuela and Puerto Rico respectively.
Watched by his father John and Billy Walsh, Conlan delivered winning comfortably against Jose Diaz winning 49-46 on all three judges' cards.
But the real drama was in San Juan where the favourite Gurbanov crashed to a shock 3-0 defeat against Garcia.
So Conlan moved to second place in the rankings and secured his place in Rio along with the Russian Vladimir Nikitin. Not surprisingly the Belfast boxer was overjoyed.
'I wasn't even going to fight after the Russian won on Friday night.Now I'm going to Rio but as I always say whatever will be will be,' Conlan tweeted.
“We’re absolutely delighted. Paddy and Michael have been magnificent this season, as have all our boxers in the WSB, and we’re delighted to have qualified two for the Olympics Games,” said Billy Walsh.
Barnes and Conlan are due home at Dublin Airport at Monday at around noon.