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Rhys McClenaghan reveals special role that Katie Taylor is playing in Commonwealth defence



Katie Taylor’s sparkling triumph under the bright New York lights is driving proud Down man Rhys McClenaghan’s turbulent Commonwealth title defence.

he Team NI gymnast (23) lowered the colours of Olympic champion Max Whitlock on the Gold Coast pommel horse four years ago and travels to Birmingham after winning his battle to compete at the Games.

McClenaghan — and team-mates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer — were banned for being licensed to compete internationally for Ireland before the controversial ruling was soon overturned.

McClenaghan, who represented Ireland at last summer’s Olympic Games, swapped the pommel horse for pay-per-view in April to watch Irish boxing sensation Taylor (36) defend her world title against Puerto Rican puncher Amanda Serrano in a bout billed as the biggest women’s fight of all time at Madison Square Garden.

And he hopes channelling the spirit of Taylor, who won lightweight gold at London 2012 before turning professional, can help him grab more Irish glory in Birmingham next week.

McClenaghan, who first competes today, said: “Katie represents Ireland so well and is a huge inspiration for me. I watched her fight in New York from start to finish and had goosebumps the whole way through.

“I was honestly quite emotional because of the grandeur of the event — it was an amazing stage and her win was such an amazing achievement for her.

“Katie’s always been supportive of my journey and everything I’m trying to achieve, and that’s the lovely thing about the sporting community in Ireland: we all support each other.

“We’re representing our country together as sportspeople —there’s a lot of respect coming my way and I’m really thankful for Katie spurring me on.”

McClenaghan beat Whitlock, who defended his 2016 Olympic title in Tokyo last summer, to Commonwealth gold in Australia but the pair will not renew rivalries in the West Midlands next week.

Whitlock (29) withdrew from the Games to focus on October’s World Championships in Liverpool to leave McClenaghan one of the red-hot favourites to defend his Gold Coast crown.

McClenaghan finished seventh after slipping off the Olympic pommel horse on debut but believes suffering that unfortunate setback has intensified his appetite for success.

“I’m way more motivated after that slip in Tokyo — it made me the athlete I am today, more resilient and consistent,” he added.

“It hurt like hell, but I used that disappointment to push me on and I’m much more motivated and determined to get that gold medal now.

“I’m at a world-class level and every result I get is making history for the country.

“I’m hoping to make that again and be the first Northern Irish gymnast to bring home two gold medals for his country.”

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