A 10-year veteran of the High Performance Unit from its inception in 2003 until his retirement, the Olympic silver medallist maintains that the system is a delicately balanced structure. It may still have its imperfections, but after delivering numerous international medals, it is arguably the most successful operation in Irish sport. And not just anyone is capable of fostering the success that Walsh, Zaur Antia, and their fellow coaches have managed to create.
“It worked so well over the last 10, 12, 13 years,” said Egan, reflecting on Walsh’s decision to step away. “At the start it wasn’t perfect, we messed up a couple of times, we got our hands slapped [by the IABA]. It was a learning process.
“Some people wanted to axe the High Performance after we came home from the Worlds in 2007 — Mick Dowling said to cancel it back then! Now there’s talk of the same guys coming in to head it up.”
One reason for such rampant speculation as to whether Irish boxing is heading into disaster territory is down to the uncertainty surrounding Walsh’s imminent departure, with the Wexford coach set to fly Stateside tomorrow for his new role with USA boxing, but other concerns remain.
In a week when Michael Conlan’s World Championship gold medal — and the general success of his teammates in Doha — should still be the centre of attention, other concerns have unfortunately distracted from that achievement.
Panic has spread partly due to the silence emanating from the offices of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) on Dublin’s South Circular Rd.
Other than a Monday evening statement following Walsh’s resignation, officials have been tight-lipped, but there does appear to be some good reason for their seemingly stubborn stance. It is believed their officials are limited in what they can say about Walsh’s contractual situation as any wrong word could leave the association vulnerable to a potential legal case.
Although there is no suggestion of Walsh attempting to take a case of constructive dismissal, it is believed he is seeing out his one-month notice through holiday entitlements and the IABA are unlikely to talk about any specifics in regards to why a deal could not be done to retain the coach’s services lest they create legal trouble for the association.
Whatever about the reasons for their silence, the IABA are coming in for a somewhat understandably heavy level of criticism for the way they have handled the situation.
Walsh, a native of Wolfe Tone Villas and a former milkman, has helped Irish boxing become a global power and the idea that a replacement can be brought in seamlessly, just nine months before Rio, is fanciful at best.
There is also pressure coming from the Irish Sports Council, with chief executive John Treacy lamenting the IABA’s lack of urgency in sorting out the eight-month saga and revealing the frustrations of Sports Minister Michael Ring regarding the sorry mess.
Speaking to RTÉ radio, Treacy said: “This clearly is the responsibility of the IABA, they were the employers of Billy Walsh. The minister was clear that he wanted to keep Billy Walsh, we were clear, the money was put on the table and it broke down on the non-financial aspects.”
Who will replace him? Even with Rio only nine months down the line, it is believed that neither the remaining coaches nor the boxers want to see a rushed or premature appointment made, if he departs. The wrong man (or woman) could lead to even more chaos.
It seems likely that the IABA will advertise internationally for the role, despite the fact many high-profile boxers such as two-time Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes and World Champion Michael Conlan would like to see an in-house replacement.
Michael’s father and club coach, John, a Dubliner based in Belfast, is a popular choice among the Ulster boxers he has helped to Commonwealth success, but other Irish coaches could also be in the running.
Eddie Bolger, regular coach to Joe Ward, is highly rated by the Irish team, while technical coach Zaur Antia is hailed by numerous boxers as the main man behind Ireland’s ability to compete with the best in the world.