Walsh waits as Baku hopefuls slug it out

SIX weeks from the most important event of the year, Billy Walsh was sitting in the high performance unit on the South Circular Road in Dublin with not one of his boxers in sight.

The beleaguered high performance coach, who has masterminded Irish boxing’s record medal haul in recent years, must await the outcome of this week’s box-offs before knowing who will travel with him to the world championships in Baku next month.

He also fears he could be without his two reigning European champions, Ray Moylette and Joe Ward, because injuries have ruled both out of the box-offs.

Also missing will be Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes, who has won Commonwealth and European titles, middleweight Darren O’Neill, who was a silver medallist at last year’s Europeans, world bronze medallist John Joe Nevin and Willie McLoughlin, all carrying certified injuries.

“Ray isn’t boxing, he’s injured,” St Anne’s club coach Peter Mullen said. “He has been told to take four weeks off and there are only two weeks gone.

“We could put him into it but that would be a risk as well as going against medical advice. We did it in the seniors and the result of that was that he got beaten in the quarter-finals. He had not done much punching with the right hand before that.

“I can see where they (IABA) are coming from. I can understand their point of view. There are a lot of lads champing at the bit out there. We were very lucky to have Ray in the Europeans.

“We have Danny Coughlan in the box-offs and we are going up, so it is not that we are boycotting them or anything like that. As far as Ray is concerned we are going on the medical advice from their own top men.

“I don’t know exactly what the situation is. At first we were told that the box-offs were to help pick the team but now we are told they are being held to pick the team. If it puts Ray out it puts him out. The powers that be seem to be changing the goalposts every so often.”

To add to the confusion surrounding the box-offs, which take place on tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, it appears as if Olympic silver medallist Kenneth Egan will weigh in at heavyweight, which would rule out a big showdown with Joe Ward in the unlikely event of the Moate man participating. There are also unconfirmed reports Clonmel heavyweight Connie Sheehan is about to move up to the super heavyweight division.

IABA director of boxing Dominic O’Rourke confirmed yesterday that the winners of the box-offs will be recommended for the Irish team.

However, that could backfire in a big way when it comes to Olympic qualification. The world championships are just one of two qualification tournaments for London 2012 and if Moylette and Ward go to Azerbaijan they will be seeded — giving them an outstanding chance of making the last eight, which would guarantee them their places in the Olympics.

It is difficult to see how the IABA could pass up an opportunity like that.

Unlike Declan Kidney or Giovanni Trapattoni, it appears Billy Walsh does not have the final say in team selection.

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