LARRY RYAN: Everyone a winner in Billy Walsh saga

The week has been a game-changer for Billy Walsh.

He was close anyway, but a boxing man would never quite have made it on the steam of his work alone.

Billy needed a week like this to propel himself into the small group of Irish lay saints; the select group of unimpeachables that currently numbers Panti Bliss, Imelda May, Bressie, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, weather woman Jean Byrne, and every current and former Irish rugby international.

Marty Whelan coulda been a contender, if only he’d left for NBC rather than Century Radio, that time.

But Billy has called things right and Billy is up there now.

In the end, as the squabbling and finger-pointing continued back home, it was the power of iconic photography that finally delivered Billy safely into the upper circle of our affections.

That shot of him in the USA tracksuit jacket, surveying the Olympic trials in Memphis.

Focused, professional, but with just the right note of wistful displacement in his eyes.

Not Billy anymore. Coach Walsh.

Clear Eyes, Can’t Lose. Half-full Heart.

There is nothing that can make us believe in a man more than knowing the world believes in him too.

Now, Coach Walsh could come home and release a movie in the morning and it would have five stars attached before the trailers had finished rolling.

If he had any interest at all, he could have a primetime chat show interviewing all the celebrity lookalikes he wants.

But he need not be the only big winner out of this episode.

They are on the ropes now, the boxing chiefs, as we squabble and fret and point the finger over the loss of Billy.

But these guys will know that many bigger chancers have lost a lot more and have spent longer days in front of an Oireachtas Committee without a punch being landed.

Ultimately, the loss of Billy, and even the potential loss of a few Olympic medals, may be a small price to pay for amateur boxing’s unprecedented place front and centre in the nation’s concerns.

They needed this too, their own Saipan, their own Bryan McFadden departure.

A week when we are at our best, when so many people hold strong opinions about matters that never before occupied them.

From here, how can we ever go back again to the token nods of recognition, the one-day wonder festival of platitudes that greets our boxers when they land home again as champions?

God forbid, after the fuss we’ve made about this, we might even have to show their bouts on television. And watch them.

The IABA can come through this one stronger, much like Westlife thrived after the loss of McFadden, which is not, of course, to suggest that the IABA have offloaded a dead weight.

When McFadden looked back on that big call, a decade on, he offered one misgiving.

“Sometimes I think if I’d stayed another 10 years, I would have made a lot of money, but that would be the only reason for any regret.”

Everyone a winner in Billy Walsh saga

At least Coach Walsh shouldn’t have that one hanging over him.

As we try to tease out why all of this has come to pass, one wouldn’t, ordinarily, look far beyond the Sterling Principle – established by young Raheem, but convertible to all currencies.

That is, when you hear that something is not about money, and has never been about money, it is invariably mainly about money, and perhaps entirely about money.

And if that is the case here, who among us can put a price on Billy Walsh?

Of course, the feeling out there is that there is more to this, particularly when you hear it attributed to the IABA lads that they have “20 coaches who can do Billy’s job.”

That might well be a rich tribute to Billy, setting him up as some kind of Coach Spartacus, about to inspire men from every corner of the organisation to stand up and roar ‘I am Billy Walsh.’

But it sounds more like something else altogether; it sounds a lot like our great national suspicion of the fella who thinks he’s great, who is in danger of losing the run of himself.

A phobia, incidentally, McFadden has also encountered.

Ironically, it is that great national distaste for a fella getting too much credit that has kept our band of lay saints so select in the first place, and will always keep our elites on their toes. Even America can’t vouch for Bono now, for instance.

So, whichever way you look at it, we have to celebrate Billy, for beating the system, for getting one up on those who feel he might have got ahead of himself.

There can be a third big winner too, out of all this palaver.

Katie Taylor is close, within touching distance, of election to our upper circle. And yet the odd, nagging, naysayer persists, quibbling about the calibre of women’s boxing and wondering who is she really beating.

Now, opportunity knocks in Rio.

When Katie takes down Coach Walsh, there will only be one true queen of Ireland.


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