Billy shows his mettle with Rio medal haul
BILLY WALSH has spoken of his delight in how his US boxing team came away from the Rio Olympics with three medals, while expressing surprise at how Irish boxing fared at the games.
Billy returns to Wexford today (Tuesday), having spent one month in Rio de Janeiro, where the American boxing team enjoyed its greatest success in 18 years, winning one gold, one silver and one bronze medal through the successes of Claressa Shields, Shakur Stevenson and Nico Hernandez.
In an interview with this newspaper at the beginning of the games, Walsh, from Wolfe Tone Villas in Wexford town, said he was hoping to win two medals, one in the women's and one in men's boxing.
He said: 'It's been fantastic. To get two men's and one women's medals exceeded our expectations. A couple of the guys were beaten by gold medalists and only lost on split decisions. This is a team of kids so they all have to be commended. I was worried about how they were going to cope with the magnitude of fighting in an Olympics but they were fantastic.'
Walsh said the target for Irish boxing was to go from fifth in the world at the London Olympics to first at Rio but the team ended up with no medals.
'Unfortunately that (target) became derailed early on in the tournament. All of them were unlucky, some more than others. I was gutted for Michael Conlon. It was disgraceful what happened to him. Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder could have seen that he won that fight. Nobody was safe with those judges. I've never seen such stupidity in judging so any champion could have been taken out. That worried me and I had to get that through to the team; to take the decision away from the judges.'
Walsh said he has not been with the Irish boxing team since Doha ten months ago when he joined the US boxing set-up.
'It's been that long so I can't really comment. I know they all gave it 100 per cent and they were unlucky.'
Responding to an accusation by Katie Taylor's father Pete that the Irish boxing team became a mess after he left and that this was his fault as well as the IABA's, Walsh said: 'That's his opnion. It was my decision to move on but at the end of the day the IABA could have made that not happen. The team were down one man who was leading the programme so it was always going to be difficult to fill the holes in a ten-month period.'
Walsh remains optimistic for Irish boxing, saying that there is a strong pool of talent in the country.
'The success of this generation of boxers has brought more kids into the game and more will come through the pipleine to the top levels.'
Walsh enjoyed a night with the US boxing team and their families on Sunday and said the moment Stevenson presented his medal to his grandfather, who helped him in his career, was a particular highlight.
'The focus is on rest and recovery and my rest and recovery will be in the sunny South East. The rest of the team will break up and go home to their own places and we'll meet up again in one month's time. Some of them will turn professional as some have lucrative offers but we will support some of them financially. A lot of them will only be 22 or 23 when Tokyo is on.'
Walsh plans to develop a youth training programme later this autumn similar to what his high performance team had in place in Ireland. Of his return to Wexford today, Walsh said: 'I'm looking forward to being back in Wexford. There will be a few beers had.'