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Sucker Punch: Irish Boxing Powers Have Been Dicking Billy Walsh Around Since London 2012

Sucker Punch: Irish Boxing Powers Have Been Dicking Billy Walsh Around Since London 2012
By Gavan Casey
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It was a gut-punch that we should have telegraphed long in advance of this year.

On the eve of John Joe Nevin's London 2012 gold medal bout with current lightweight superstar Luke Campbell, reports surfaced in the Irish Independent that Billy Walsh - whose Ireland team through Katie Taylor had just secured the nation's first Olympic boxing gold since 1992 - was dissatisfied in his role as head coach of the High Performance Unit.

As described in Seán McGoldrick's superb new book, Punching Above Their Weight - The Irish Olympic Boxing Story, Walsh stressed that he didn't want to be seen as 'moaning and whingeing', but his impassioned outburst was typically calculated:

When you consider Mr Trappatoni is on a million euro just to qualify [for Euro 2012]. Declan Kidney is on a fantastic contract. Now, I've the utmost respect for those men. I'm happy for them, but we're not valued for what we do. We're making history, bringing more medals into this country than any other sport.

I know for a fact that I'm the lowest paid High Performance manager, or whatever you want to call it, of all sports.

I don't mind about titles. Everybody knows I lead a good team, but we need to be rewarded for that going forward. When you consider that before the World Cup, Declan Kidney got a massive contract. Before the Euros, Trapattoni the same. Nobody tried to secure us. That says it all, doesn't it?

Four years on, it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that both Kidney and Trap's successors might be relieved by the timing of Walsh's escape from what one of our Facebook commenters rather aptly described as, "the usual committeeism mentality shite that exists in all Irish sports."



There can be no doubt about it; regardless of their intentions, the shady suits at the IABA have royally fucked it this time. And the whole country knows it.

Was financial dispute the cause of Billy Walsh's departure? No. He wanted more control. 'Autonomy' - that key word.

The man who trained Ireland's amateur elites has always sought the overriding authority to make decisions regarding said fighters - for example, choosing which boxers partake in certain tournaments - as opposed to leaving it up to the people whose awareness within the sport has subsequently proven to be so minimal as to allow a coach of his stature to depart.


The great leaders - Ferguson, Lombardi, Belichick, Wooden - are, gradually, through appreciation for their years of unprecedented success, granted this span of command. As the Irish Sun's Kevin Byrne correctly points out, Walsh and co have served an apprenticeship longer than that expected of a doctor.

But even two years prior to the London Olympics, there was a seemingly twisted wariness to his relationship with his employers; he was initially overlooked as a candidate for the role of High Performance director, when only a threat by the Irish Sports Council to cut funding prevented the IABA from installing then-president Dominic O'Rourke in his stead - this despite Walsh having already effectively worked in the role for 20 months prior.

Since 2003, Billy Walsh has assisted in or overseen Ireland's male boxers winning sixty-seven major boxing medals. However, peculiarly - given his astronomical success alongside the technical god that is Zaur Antia and other world-class coaches like John Conlan - he never seemed to earn the IABA's respect.



His performance merited this more encompassing level of 'control' - a more significant say in how the sport is run in Ireland. It has for some time.

Despite running Ireland's High Performance Unit in what is essentially a directorial role since 2008, Walsh has only ever been paid a head coach's salary of €77,000 due to a perplexing refusal by the IABA to officially appoint him as director.


But a recurring thematic problem in Irish boxing, and Irish sport in general, is that those in power behind-the-scenes will always refuse to relinquish it or even share it; their greatest concern is that they'll have to hang the blazer up.


This bureaucratic spewage has continued into the national debate which has followed Walsh's unceremonious departure. Nobody is willing to take responsibility.

According to The Irish Sun, Walsh will earn a €50,000 pay rise on his current salary in the USA, and will also receive a guaranteed pension and health insurance. Despite these financial incentives, the Wexford man has been incredibly transparent in his efforts to remain as head coach of the Irish team.

His employer's intentions are far less clear.

Forget your eight months - the IABA had three years to get this right. And make no mistake about it, the Irish Sports Council, whose frantic hand-washing of an increasingly convoluted situation pleads innocence, are also partially culpable. Sometimes the tail wags the dog.

The Irish Sports Council seem mystified by the fact that, despite there existing little-to-no financial demands on Walsh's behalf, Ireland's head coach has been forced to walk away from the medal-hauling machine he helped to engineer.

Last night they released a statement on Walsh's departure. They once again referenced the contract they had requested the IABA offer to Walsh:

The statement said that it is "not clear why this proposal was never presented to the board of the IABA as agreed... and we have never received a satisfactory answer on this matter."

But when you consider it's almost identical to what they said two months ago, the Council's efforts to ask the right questions seem, at best, negligible.

As for Irish boxing's governing body - they are not, by any means, 'anti-boxing.' These are people who do care for the sport in Ireland. But they are a secluded, shoddily-run organisation whose conduct since August has wreaked of both arse-chancery and concealment, and on this occasion has brought shame to the nation's most successful sport.

To prolong negotiation to the point that Walsh was forced to accept his new role as US boxing chief before the deadline for said offer expired was an act of sheer cowardice, and the ultimate indignation for an undubted legend of Irish sport. To not acknowledge his departure until minutes before the six-one news was, frankly, embarrassing.

And Walsh saw it coming. Back in 2012, after hesitantly accepting a new four-year offer, he told Vincent Hogan of the Independent:

The offers [from abroad] at the time were realistic and they are still there if we need to go. But we're Irish men; Zaur [Antia] classes himself as Irish at this stage.

Look, I don't want to be anywhere else, though there are nice places which have a better climate where we could go. But we don't need to be anywhere else because we have the talent here; we have built a nice system around which we are continuously trying to improve.

Three years later, Walsh, finally falling to the bullshit, will leave for a better climate on Thursday. Last night, when asked if he was angry with how events transpired, Ireland's most successful ever boxing coach admitted:

I am, yeah. I am in a lot of ways. It's like a death in the family walking away from this. I've tortured myself, I've cried a lot. I cried this morning when I pressed 'send' on that email.

And just like that, Billy Walsh became a threat to Irish boxing.

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