Tyrone devastated after losing National Senior Final in Dublin

Tyrone McCullagh and Michael Conlan get tangled up in the Irish Elite Boxing Championships Bantamweight decider last Friday night at the National Stadium, Dublin.
Tyrone McCullagh and Michael Conlan get tangled up in the Irish Elite Boxing Championships Bantamweight decider last Friday night at the National Stadium, Dublin.

FOUR days have passed since he lost his Irish Senior Bantamweight Final to Michael Conlan but the defeat doesn’t get any easier to take for Derry’s Tyrone McCullagh.

World No. 2 Bantamweight, Conlan was overwhelming favourite to claim his fourth Irish Elite title but he certainly didn’t have it all his own way at the National Stadium on Friday night.

Michael Conlan (red) is declared the winner over Derry's Tyrone McCullagh (blue) in Friday's hard fought Irish Senior Bantamweight final at the National Stadium, Dublin.

Michael Conlan (red) is declared the winner over Derry's Tyrone McCullagh (blue) in Friday's hard fought Irish Senior Bantamweight final at the National Stadium, Dublin.

Floods of praise have since come McCullagh’s way through social media sites over the weekend from those watching on television and in the packed attendance, who felt he deserved to have his hand raised in victory.

There was no doubt it was a tight affair, McCullagh troubling Conlan throughout as the Olympic bronze medalist deployed all the spoiling tactics in the book to keep the Glen native out of range.

McCullagh felt Conlan should have been deducted points for repeatedly lowering his head and holding on when in trouble.

In the end, however, it was a unanimous decision win for the slick Belfast boxer but McCullagh was gutted by the judge’s scorecards which harshly read 30-27; 30-27; 30-27 after a heroic effort from the former Illies Golden Gloves man.

“I’m disappointed not to get the decision,” said McCullagh. “I thought I out-boxed him and he got next to nothing on me with regards to clean punches. But I knew I was going to have to knock him out to get a decision.

“The referee gave him about 12 warnings and never took a point off him. I was expecting it before I went into the ring. I’ve been on the wrong end of decisions like that a few times and I’ve not been selected for squads when I felt I should have been. The sad thing is that you come to expect it now.

“I was frustrating him. He clearly doesn’t like fighting me. I don’t think he came to fight me at all. He was turning his head and was holding me. And how he didn’t get a point deducted I don’t know.

“The amount of people who came up to me after the fight and said that I should’ve won the fight and on Facebook and Twitter was encouraging. The only person I think wasn’t surprised at how close it was, was probably Michael Conlan because I’ve sparred him a few times and he didn’t like it. He knew I was awkward opponent. His game plan was to hold on and spoil the fight and waste time because he didn’t really have an answer.”

Conlan took every opportunity to showboat and McCullagh feels it was an attempt to sway the judges but he revealed his good friend apologised at the final bell.

“In the ring he shook my hand and apologised for the showboating and said that was just for the judges,” said McCullagh. “I went looking for him after the fight just to say well done to him but he had left.

“I’m naturally gutted but it’s unbelievable the amount of people who have said to me that I won that fight. That picks my mood up a bit.”

Now a defeated Ulster and Irish finalist, McCullagh’s chances of making the Commonwealth Games squad are slim but his performances, particularly on Friday night warrant selection.

“The thing is they will be picking Michael Conlan because he beat me in the final. If they decide to pick me I’ll be ready but we’ll see what happens.”

As for Conlan - who became the first fighter since Damaen Kelly to win national senior titles at flyweight and bantamweight - he hoped his victory wouldn’t come between the pair’s long-standing friendship.

“I’m a two-weight champion,” said Conlan. “We’re still mates I’d say, although I don’t know after that – I did a bit of show-boating, but you have to do it, it’s a part of the game.

“It was very cagey. He’s a very tricky opponent, very awkward. There’s times he’s destroyed me in sparring because I just lose my cool. But I kept my distance and kept him on the edge of my shots.”