Ciarán Gallagher: The punches flying in thick and fast as blame game begins

And now the finger-pointing begins. Statements from Billy Walsh, the Irish Sports Council and the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) followed the resignation of the head coach from his role in Irish boxing’s High Performance Unit, more than 1,600 words in all, but none of them outlined just how much of a mess this sorry saga is, writes Ciarán Gallagher.

Walsh will depart Irish boxing on Thursday, taking up a role in the USA, at first with their women’s team before eventually coaching their men – a job the Wexford native has previously described as ‘a sleeping giant’ of amateur boxing and the only one that could tempt him to leave Ireland.

As attractive as the role and the Stateside six-figure package presented to him may seem, however, the 52-year-old insists it was not his No 1 choice.

What Walsh wanted all along was autonomy as the head of performance in Irish boxing; it was a request the IABA were unwilling to acquiesce to.

Having been approached by the US a year ago, matters had reached the negotiation table by last February as to whether the IABA could make a counter-offer to keep Walsh.

In August, it had seemed as though a solution had finally been found after months of failed talks, with the Sports Council structuring a financial package and new deal acceptable to Walsh, which was presented for IABA approval.

The IABA dragged their heels and now they have lost their man.

It is believed that their tiringly-slow efforts to present a new deal to Walsh eventually resulted in a highly-watered down version of the ‘August proposal’, with the IABA’s suggested deal understood to have essentially involved Walsh being stripped off his managerial powers and relegated to the status of a normal coach.

Financial terms do not appear to have been a stumbling block whatsoever.

Walsh admitted throughout numerous media interviews yesterday that he knew that the IABA and ISC woud not be able to match the financial might of the US, but he was willing to take on the original Sports Council proposal. That is believed to have been worth up to around €100,000 per year depending on success bonuses, up on his existing salary which was worth in and around €77,000 per annum.

The figures did not come close to the US offer, but it was acceptable to the coach, with the Sports Council set to finance the increase.

Still the IABA would not go for the deal as they were against Walsh’s other requests relating to team selection and what would have essentially been his solidification as High Performance Director – a position he held in all but name and reward.

It is understood that Walsh presented a five-point plan to the IABA, outlining his desires but the association were not keen on accommodating them.

A revised deal put forward by the IABA would have only guaranteed Walsh an 18-month contract, seeing out the Rio Olympics and legal advisors told the coach to turn down the offer as it involved him rescinding many of his employment rights.

Negotiations also centred on the premise that Walsh would become a contractor as opposed to an employee of the IABA, something the association were believed to be keen on as a higher salary for the coach could be justified to any potentially upset colleagues by the explanation that he was not a staff member. Sources have suggested that many officials in the IABA will be privately delighted at the outcome of this protracted saga as the hostility between the old guard of the association and the High Performance Unit has never been healed.

Either way, Walsh was still praising former colleagues throughout interviews yesterday and last night.

“The USA’s gain is Ireland’s loss,” was one of the more pertinent points made in the Sports Council’s statement last night, and suggestions that the government body did not do enough to keep Walsh appear to be wide of the mark.

While the ISC was in a position to financially support a package for Walsh, sources maintain that the body could not be seen to manipulate or interfere with what was, in the end, an IABA call.

Walsh remained relatively magnanimous throughout the climax of his resignation yesterday, but one line stood out in his statement too.

“Regrettably the IABA have not made it possible for me to continue on in the role as Head Coach of the High Performance Unit and senior team,” said Walsh in his statement, laying out in black and white that the association did not do enough.

And while Walsh praised his coaching colleagues, his boxers and admin staff that helped him work in his role, the IABA statement was notably pointed.

It praised the outgoing coach to a certain extent, but ended on the note: “The IABA will make a further announcement over the coming days in relation to the succession plans for the High Performance Unit.” They have some big shoes to fill.


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