WHEN Tyrone McCullagh steps into the ring at the National Stadium in Dublin tonight to face Olympic bronze medalist, Michael Conlan, their friendship will count for nothing!
Both have learnt ruthlessness alongside respect and the prize is too big to drown hard-headed ambition in sentiment in the final of the 56kgs Irish Senior Boxing Championships.
McCullagh, who has been fighting out of Holy Family Boxing Club in Belfast since 2010, is the overwhelming underdog against Conlan who is ranked No. 2 in the world at Bantamweight.
All eyes and all the pressure is on Conlan at the National Stadium tonight, however, with all 10 finals broadcast live on TG4, McCullagh admits he will be feeling the nerves come fight time.
The good thing is that McCullagh’s bout is second in the running order so he won’t have too much time on his hands to let the nerves get the better of him.
“I can’t wait to get in there,” said McCullagh. “There’s no real pressure on me because of who I’m up against. Everyone will be watching Michael and not me. Michael was champion at flyweight and has moved up to bantamweight now and he’ll be big favourite to win this fight.
“It’s a good thing that there won’t be too much sitting about,” he added. “And all 10 fights are being televised so it will be good to get a bit of TV time.
“I’m looking forward it but come Friday night I’m sure the nerves will be kicking in as well but that’s to be expected. Michael and I are good mates. We’ve been away together on holiday so we’re good friends but that will have to be put aside until Friday night is over.”
The former Illies Golden Gloves man is no stranger to Irish boxing finals. In fact tonight’s final will be his fourth time at the National Stadium and he is quietly confident he can cause one of the biggest upsets of the night.
McCullagh has won a national title once, lost to John Joe Nevin in another and missed a third through illness. He has gone toe-to-toe with Belfast man, Conlan before in sparring sessions and feels he can surprise his good friend on the big stage.
The 2010 European featherweight silver medallist, has been sparring with Olympic gold medalist Katie Taylor recently and he’s raring to go!
“I’ve been in three finals,” he confirmed. “I won one and then I lost one to John Joe Nevin in the Bantamweight final in 2011. I missed one through illness but I’m back in there this year and got to the final again.
“I’ve been training hard since just after Christmas when I had the head down preparing for the Ulsters Finals. It’s not easy having to sit in and watch what you eat every night but hopefully it will pay off on Friday and I’ll be able to eat what I want after the fight.”
With the lure of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer looming large, McCullagh wants to give himself every chance of getting selected for the N.Ireland squad.
Victory in the 56kgs final is not imperative, the important thing is to impress the selectors and hope they can offer him a place in the squad.
“The main thing is for me is to go in and impress,” he said. “He’s (Michael’s) going to be a strong favourite but I sparred him a couple of times and we were on the Irish team together so we know what to expect. I’m looking forward to it and I’m not writing myself off by any means.”
“Michael didn’t enter the Ulster Championships this year so he’s hoping to get picked on merit for the Commonwealth so we’ll just see how it goes,” he explained.
“Hopefully I can throw a spanner in the works if I beat him on Friday and give the selectors something to think about. But I’m trying not
to focus too much on the Commonwealth Games because Michael is ranked number two in the world and he’s looking to get going on merit.
“Hopefully If I get a good result you never know what can happen.”
The Senior Championship Finals will be broadcast live on TG4 tonight. Coverage begins at 7.30 p.m. Men’s Finals - 49kg Hughie Myers (Ryston) v Paddy Barnes (Holy Family); 56kg Michael Conlan (St John Bosco) v Tyrone McCullagh (Holy Family); 60kg Sean McComb (Holy Trinity) v David Oliver Joyce (St Michael’s Athy); 69kg Adam Nolan (Bray) v Stephen Donnelly (All Saints).