Tonight, Dean Walsh will again attempt to follow in the footsteps of his famous uncle, Billy, head coach of the Irish national team, by defending his national light-welterweight crown.
The 20-year-old Wexford native is one of just two defending champions set to contest the finals of the Elite National Championships in Dublin’s National Stadium, and he is sure to face a formidable challenge against former European champion Ray Moylette.
But while he may be the underdog against the experienced Mayo man, Walsh’s bloodlines suggest he could well be a match for any foe having claimed his maiden title in emotional circumstances last year.
His grandfather, Liam Walsh, father of Billy, was present at the 2014 finals to be honoured by the IABA in acknowledgement of his lifetime services to boxing.
Seriously ill at the time, Liam was unable to take up his usual role in Dean’s corner, with Billy filling the void.
Dean went on to cap a fairytale night for the family, emulating Billy’s feat of winning his first national senior title at the same weight — 31 years after his uncle.
It was an especially poignant moment for Liam, who passed away just a few weeks later. In addition to the sentiment involved, last year’s competition was also the first time that Billy Walsh had taken up corner duties for a boxer in the domestic championships since being appointed as Irish head coach. The decision was taken due to his father’s illness, but he will work Dean’s corner once again tonight at the request of his nephew.
“It was tremendous for the family and for Wexford,” explained Billy. “It was very poignant, very emotional. A couple of days later, I got to know how sick my dad was… he said it himself, ‘I can die happy now’.”
“Obviously I wanted to keep myself impersonal (prior to that) but the circumstances last year, with my father being so ill, I decided it was time to do it (take up corner duties).
“There’s no rule there, it was a self-imposed rule that I kept myself impartial,” said the Irish head coach. “I went with it and thankfully we had a fantastic year – my dad got to see not only his son, but, in the same weight division, his grandson win the same title. I don’t think there’s two many people in Ireland that saw their son and their grandson win the same title.”
Dean has been involved with the Irish senior team, but while Billy’s involvement may lead to allegations of nepotism, the coach dismissed such claims. “In a professional capacity, I want to see the best guy win – the best guy who’s going to deliver for us at European and world level and is going to qualify for the Olympics in Rio,” said Walsh ahead of tonight’s 64kg final. “If that happens to be my nephew, I’ll be very happy — but Ray Moylette is a friend of mine and we’ve had a very good relationship down through the years.
“When he won that European title, he had been beaten in the quarter-final of the Irish senior championships and I picked him to go (despite that)… so I’ve great time for Ray.
“I’ll be sad on a personal note [if Dean loses] because he’s my nephew but, on a professional note, they’re two good young lads. Even though Dean is senior champion, he’ll probably be the underdog going into this contest.”
Moylette’s experience as a European senior champion and world youth champion means he will indeed be fancied by many after returning to form in recent weeks to book his place in the final in typically-stylish fashion.
The light-welterweight clash is sure to be a highlight, however, in a championships which were hit by a number of high-profile withdrawals.
Portlaoise’s Michael O’Reilly is the only other defending champion, set to meet Stephen Broadhurst in the middleweight final, as names such as Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Joe Ward and David Oliver Joyce were all ruled out of the tournament due to international commitments.