John Treacy: IABA said they had 20 coaches can do Billy Walsh’s job

“We have 20 coaches who can do Billy’s job.” Of all the thousands of words spoken yesterday during a four-hour session of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication — called to examine the story behind Billy Walsh’s loss to Irish amateur boxing — those nine stood out.

John Treacy: IABA said they had 20 coaches can do Billy Walsh’s job

They were uttered, according to Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy, by a member of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) during a meeting between the bodies at a time when they and others were enmeshed in discussions to prevent Walsh’s loss to the US Olympic movement.

Treacy added that the IABA stressed that their desire was to keep Walsh in Ireland. The IABA said as much time and again themselves, but boxing’s officials nonetheless found themselves fighting off the back foot at Leinster House in the face of some robust questioning from deputies and senators.

The IABA’s take on Walsh’s departure was consistent with that of last week when this controversy was at its height: This was a deal that faltered on financial lines. Sport Ireland begged to differ. So, of course, has Walsh who is already in the US performing his new job.

Pictures yesterday showed Walsh wearing a US tracksuit and seated ringside at the US Olympic trials in Memphis, Tennessee. He will relocate to Colorado Springs next month where he will take up the role of head coach to the women’s programme.

A press release from his new employers also materialised yesterday, slap bang in the middle of the Oireachtas talkathon, and it was ironic to note that it incorrectly credited him with holding the roles of both head coach and director of Irish boxing’s High Performance Unit (HPU). Here, after all, was the kernel of the whole problem.

Walsh had indeed been head coach of the HPU since 2008, but was never afforded the other title, and it was senator Eamon Coghlan who drilled down to the core of the issue when he spoke of issues regarding trust, credibility, respect, and communication.

Coghlan, who served as chairman of the then Irish Sports Council’s High Performance Committee for four years from 2008, declared that he did not believe the assertion made by IABA chairman Joe Christle that he had wanted Walsh to stay.

It was Coghlan’s assertion that “the kudos he was getting grated”; that some coaches beneath the HPU “didn’t rate him at all”; were disgruntled by the loss of control over their boxers once they entered the elite programme; and that this filtered through to the board of directors.

Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan spoke of the “total hames” and “bags” that had contributed to Walsh’s loss to Irish sport. A number of members expressed incredulity at the fact that no deal could be done after eight months of negotiations.

Sport Ireland didn’t escape unscathed, but the IABA were taking most of the shots. Christle, who did most of the talking for the organisation, said he nearly fell down the stairs and had a “deep pain in the pit of my stomach” when he heard of the US approach to Walsh last February, and that the IABA’s focus from the start was on how to retain their man.

IABA director Ciaran Kirwan admitted the saga had done some reputational damage to the body, but said, “this thing propagated by the media that people (in the IABA) are resentful of (the HPU) needs to be put to bed”.

Unlikely. This one will run and run.

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