One Irish sporting loss with an unquantifiable impact 

Comments about the power of tradition have appeared here before. After all, how do any of us become interested in anything – seeing others engaged in same. That applies to sport, business or anything else you wish to nominate. How many youngsters – male or female – have been inspired to take up rugby owing to the success our national teams have enjoyed therein in recent times? 

Substitute that example for camogie and/or ladies football in Cork or the impressionable being enthralled and won over by the exploits of the likes of Ruby Walsh or AP McCoy, the same ideal applies. What’s also been highlighted in this space previously is that in terms of garnering success on sport’s biggest stages, pugilism has been a happier hunting ground for the Irish than most.

Thus, on any decent video compilation of sporting highlights from yesteryear, Barry McGuigan’s boxing exploits will figure centrally. Which in its own way will have undoubtedly been the catalyst for boxing club’s – like the one in Dunboyne spearheaded by Kevin Poleon and Eamonn Gilligan – to emerge throughout the country.

That said, whatever about the likes of McGuigan, Steve Collins, Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough and Bernard Dunne being inspirations to a generation, the amateur achievements of large numbers of Irish practitioners in more recent times – perhaps particularly those of Katie Taylor – have surely driven another raft of newcomers to climb through the ropes.

Yet here’s the thing – maybe the most crucial part of having talent and deriving the best possible outcomes from it boils down to management thereof. Which is why much of the success enjoyed by numerous amateur protagonists – up to and including the likes of Mick Conlan and Joe Ward most recently – owe so much of their accomplishment to the immeasurable input of the magnificent coach, Billy Walsh.

All of which makes Walsh’s decision to abdicate his role and assume a similar role in America considerably more difficult to digest. It’s not that you could blame or begrudge the Kilkenny man such an opportunity. The real sad part is that it has come to this. That it was allowed to happen. For, as was similarly said when the histrionics surrounding Jack Grealish had eventually dissipated, it wasn’t him, it was us.

Without knowing the intricacies of what goes on within the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) or the Irish Sports Council, it wouldn’t take sleuth-like intuition to deduce that innumerable obstacles were placed in the way of Walsh and his assistant Zaur Anita as they attempted to discharge their duties.

Cognisance of which makes the hoards of success they have accumulated for Irish boxing all the more commendable. What it also does, mind you, is underline the worrying gut feeling that, with Walsh’s defection, comes one Irish sporting loss with a potentially unquantifiable impact.

Any analysis of the success engineered by combatants under his stewardship to be absolutely staggering. And, just because at the latest major event a short time ago even more medals were hovered up, there was still no room for taking the eye off the ball or foot off the pedal.

With a team – and in the context of amateur boxing it must be remembered competitors are considered a team – the mindset and by extension output thereof will only be as good or otherwise as the ethos espoused to those therein by whoever is in charge. In that regard, with Billy Walsh, Ireland were as near to boxing utopia as was possible,

Which again shines a scathing light on those the coach was attempting to do business with. One of the most common quotes to emerge regarding Billy and his overseeing of things has revolved him organising sleeping bags and the like as those in his case often slept in gyms in order to maintain their dedication to the collective cause. And, you suspect, to him.

The other thing which is abundantly clear is that he was profoundly hurt by the funding that was – or more pointedly wasn’t – made available to him in comparison to coaches, albeit successful ones, in other codes. We’re always told that top level sport is a results driven environment. Well, that being the case, the IABA were obviously inept and clueless as to the prized asset they had in their midst.

So, with exactly that in mind it’s little wonder – and only right – that the Sports Council should be reviewing funding to the amateur boxing governing body. To my mind, they have failed spectacularly. Ireland will undoubtedly have some very talented boxers in Brazil next summer but they – and their preparations – cannot but be affected by this sorry and wholly avoidable mess.

I have an awful gut feeling – and this is meant in no disrespect to either Billy Walsh or our Olympic hopefuls – that the expertise of the man from Noreside may well come back to haunt the ineptitude and mismanagement. How is it the chorus of Big Yellow Taxi begins…

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