Big blow to Irish sport as Billy Walsh says enough is enough

By david looby

Published 20/10/2015 | 00:00

John Joe Nevin celebrates with Team Ireland boxing head coach Billy Walsh( right) and Team Ireland boxing technical and tactical head coach Zaur Anita, after being declared the winner over Cuba's Lazaro Alvarez Estrada during their semi-final contest at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
11/11/2012. Billy Walsh Freeman of Wexford. Irish boxing coach Billy Walsh is made an Honorary Freeman of Wexford. Pictured is Billy Walsh paraded through the town. Photo Patrick Browne
John Joe Nevin celebrates with Team Ireland boxing head coach Billy Walsh( right) and Team Ireland boxing technical and tactical head coach Zaur Anita, after being declared the winner over Cuba's Lazaro Alvarez Estrada during their semi-final contest at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

iRELAND'S most successful ever boxing coach, Wexfordian Billy Walsh, has come out swinging against the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), saying that they made it impossible for him to continue in his role, leaving him no choice but to leave for America this Thursday.

Walsh is travelling to the USA to take up the position as coach with the USA Women's Boxing Team at their base in Colorado Springs.

The American boxing association were advertising the position of women's coach on their official website for the last number of months but the posting has been removed.

Having agonised over the decision over recent months, Walsh dropped the bombshell yesterday (Monday morning) to the IABA, sparking outrage across the country against the organisation for their inept handling of contract negotiations with the head coach of Ireland's hugely successful High Performance Unit.

Walsh said: 'It is with deep regret that I am announcing my resignation, as of today's date, October 19th, 2015, as the Head Coach of the Irish High Performance Unit and senior team. This morning I forwarded my resignation to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) Chief Executive Officer Fergal Carruth. Regrettably the IABA have not made it possible for me to continue on in the role as head coach of the High Performance Unit and senior team.'

His announcement was made just days after his unit master-minded Ireland's best ever performance at the World Boxing championships in Doha, which saw Michael Conlan become the first Irish boxer to win a gold medal at the event.

Following eight months of protracted negotiations with the IABA, centred on his ability to have more control of selecting boxers for major competitions, along with more freedom in how he did his work, Walsh said he could no longer refuse the offer of working in America, with their women's boxing team, with the potential of heading up the men's coaching team in the not-too-distant future.

He said money was not a factor in his decision, although he is expected to earn multiples of what he would make had the IABA successfully agreed contract terms with him here.

At the end of the championships in Doha Walsh hinted that he was optimistic that there would be a successful outcome to his protracted contractual talks with the IABA, but the offer never came. He said that he was in tears making his decision yesterday as he was anxious to stay in Ireland and had hoped to lead Irish boxers to success at the Rio Olympics.

In late August there were hopes of a breakthrough with the IABA after a package was agreed to keep Walsh at home. That package was due to be brought for ratification to an IABA board meeting. This did not happen, however, after the association indicated via email on Tuesday that they had changed their stance on virtually every detail of the package.

The married father of three wanted the IABA to emulate what the British did when the British Sports Council took their High Performance Unit away from the British Boxing Association and brought it to a High Performance Sport's Unit. This unit is run by high performance professionals.

A planned move to a new training facility in Abbotstown would provide the ideal opportunity for this change to happen and Walsh had been involved in the design of this.

Having returned from London 2012 Walsh set himself a goal to raise Ireland's rankings from number five to number one in the world in Rio 2016.

He was then made an offer dwarfing his current salary in a package that included pension and health insurance, neither of which he gets from the IABA.

In February, he made the association aware of that offer and indicated certain changes he felt needed to be made to the circumstances in which Irish boxing's High Performance Programme was run.

The Irish Sports Council has repeatedly made clear their willingness to fund any new salary for the Irish coach, as well as whatever knock-on increases it might require for other people in the programme.

There had been a long history of tension between Walsh and those running boxing's High Performance and the IABA, and Walsh had been courted by Australian, English and American national boxing associations.

Last October representatives from the USA Women's National coach came to speak to Walsh and brought him over to see their facilities in Colorado on his Christmas holidays and a massive financial package was offered to Walsh. Negotiations with the IABA began in earnest in February and have been ongoing for eight months, with senior ministers, including Brendan Howlin, intervening to try to resolve the deadlock with the Irish Sports Council to keep the Wexford man in Ireland.

Speaking yesterday Walsh told of the stress the negotiations have had on him. 'Mentally, it's been very, very stressful over the last eight months. It has taken its toll in some ways. I spent a lot of time crying around this decision, but I think for the best of my health, for my future, it's the best way for me to move on. I went back time after time to try and make this work. For my own dignity and respect I felt I couldn't stoop any lower.'

Walsh's resignation is a massive blow to Irish boxing just seven months away from the Rio Olympics.

Walsh had been Head Coach of the High Performance since it was set up in 2003. Since then Irish boxers has won seven Olympic medals and they set for more success in Rio.

Walsh's first assignment as USA Women's coach will be the women's World championships in Kazakhstan in January where Ireland's Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor will be bidding to qualify for the Rio Games.

Refelcting back on his boxing career and as Irish boxing Head Coach, Walsh said: 'Over the last five decades I have been immersed in the sport of boxing from boy to man and for club and country. I am hugely grateful for the opportunities that my sport has given me both as a boxer and coach. In starting out on this journey back in 2003 our ambition was centred on building a sustainable system for Irish Boxing and I think we have achieved that.'

He thanked his team and the boxers he has worked with, wishing them all every success in Rio

'Finally I would like to thank my wife Christine and my family for all their support and patience during this time.

'While leaving the Irish Team has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, my sights are now firmly set on my future role with USA Boxing. It is a huge honour for me as a coach to receive the opportunity work with such an iconic sporting nation that is the USA. I am greatly looking forward to the opportunities ahead in bringing my expertise and experience to the USA Women's Team as they prepare for success in Rio and beyond,' he said.

Wexford People

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