Tough Olympic road ahead, says Walsh

Billy Walsh hasn’t diluted his ambition of Ireland finishing top of the boxing medal table at the next Olympic Games despite the raft of changes which threaten to squeeze the number of qualifiers under his charge.

Ireland finished fifth in the boxing ladder at London thanks to the efforts of Katie Taylor, John Joe Nevin, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon, but even reaching the 2016 Games will be a phenomenal achievement in itself.

Changes to the boxing landscape will see some qualification spots switch to the APB Pro Boxing circuit, which is run by the global amateur AIBA body, and the World Series of Boxing (WSB) in which amateur fighters may also compete.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Walsh yesterday. “From [the 2004 Games in] Athens on, it’s got more difficult.”

What it all means is qualification berths via more traditional means will be reduced with, for example, only gold and silver medallists likely to confirm their places in Rio in 2016 at next year’s World Championships in Doha.

“The problem is that we don’t have a franchise for WSB so we’re at the mercy of another country. If they’re running a WSB programme, they’ll want to get their own lads qualified, we want to get an Irish lad qualified.

“We have had some lads doing very well in WSB at times but our own franchise would be key. We don’t have one. It would probably take a couple of million to run one and I can’t see anyone coming up with that kind of money to support that.”

Opportunities abroad are becoming the bane of Walsh’s life in many respects given the loss of Nevin and heavyweight Tommy McCarthy to professional promoters with links to the UK and the USA this past six months or so. It may yet get worse. Jason Quigley has also been offered a number of tempting professional offers of his own after a sensational 2013 in which he became a European middleweight champion and world silver medallist. The Donegal man was still torn over which path to take over the Christmas but Walsh is unaware of which way the balance is tipping and, as things stands, seems to believe that Quigley will fight in the National Championships next month.

“As far as I know, he’s training for the Nationals. I haven’t heard otherwise. There’s supposed to be some offers on the table. He has to look at it and weigh it up: does he want to go to the Olympic Games?

“If he doesn’t, well, you know ... anyone who’s really interested in him will wait for two years. His value will increase having been at a Games. And the profile ... he will do a lot of profile and marketing out of the Games if he does well at it.”

There is little the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) or Irish Sports Council (ISC) can do to bend his arm further. All the London medallists were secured to deals after London and yet Nevin still left.

Both bodies are largely hamstrung by their government funding but Walsh was, as always, positive about the road ahead when standing firm behind the lofty goals he has set for himself and his high-performance unit after London.

“We are still punching forward for (the No.1 spot). There is still some talent coming through in the next year or two. You’ll see some other guys coming through and moving into those spaces. Michael Conlan has moved to JJs weight divisions.

“Paddy may move into (Michael’s) weight division so there’s a couple of light flyweights around that are not too bad. We’ll continue to look at our own program, improve the system to be in a good position to challenge for that number one spot.”

The success of Walsh’s fighters has at least secured for the IABA the largest chunk of high-performance cash from the ISC who revealed yesterday €840,000 will be allotted to them for 2014, up €30,000 from last year.

There was further good news for the boxing fraternity with the ISC’s high performance director Paul McDermott reporting positively on their initial dealings with new IABA CEO Fergal Carruth.

Such talks may not make headlines but some of the top fighters have criticised their governing body for a failure to capitalise on the London successes so these mundane matters may yet have some sway on those pondering life as a pro. In all, 18 sports have been awarded high-performance monies amounting to €7,113,000. Another €11m was divvied out to the bodies themselves as core funding while Local Sports Partnerships were allotted €5m.


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