Tuesday 27 September 2016

Billy Walsh could be set for sensational return to Irish boxing

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

Walsh’s acrimonious departure last October provoked a national outcry, and even prompted a hearing before an influential Dáil committee. Photo: Jim Brown/Sportsfile
Walsh’s acrimonious departure last October provoked a national outcry, and even prompted a hearing before an influential Dáil committee. Photo: Jim Brown/Sportsfile

Billy Walsh could be in line for a sensational return to Irish sport less than 12 months after his controversial departure to take over the US women's boxing programme.

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Walsh has emerged as one of the favourites to succeed Gary Keegan, who recently announced he was stepping down as director of the Irish Institute of Sport in September to pursue a new business venture.

In his eight years in the post, Keegan significantly enhanced the international reputation of the Institute, which is based on the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, with his attention to detail and commitment to excellence. Many of the country's leading athletes have benefited from his expertise.

Walsh's acrimonious departure last October provoked a national outcry, and even prompted a hearing before an influential Dáil committee. Having spearheaded an incredible haul of four medals at the London Olympics in 2012, and with Irish boxers tipped for more success at this year's games, Walsh left 10 months ago to take up the lucrative position in the US, claiming he had effectively been forced to quit his post here.

Boxing chiefs were subsequently accused of forcing Walsh out of his position as head of its high performance unit in a dispute which rocked the Irish sporting landscape.

Keegan's departure, however, has created a vacancy in one of the most important positions in Irish sport and Walsh's international reputation has catapulted him into contention. One well-placed source told the Sunday Independent that the Wexford native is very much "on the radar".

However, it's understood the recruitment process will not commence until after the Rio Olympics and that there has been no contact with Walsh, formally or informally, to assess his level of interest. Walsh is currently in Rio with the US team.

It's also understood that an exhaustive process will be entered into. In the world of high performance sport, the end of an Olympic cycle is when leading candidates in this field tend to become available and it is likely that the net for a successor to Keegan will be cast far and wide.

It's no secret that Sport Ireland holds Walsh and his abilities in the highest regard, and that chairman Kieran Mulvey and chief executive John Treacy made every effort to keep him in Ireland at the height of last year's controversy.

Furthermore, there are clear advantages to bringing in an acknowledged expert who is intimately familiar with the landscape and the key personalities, and who could hit the ground running at the beginning of the new Olympic cycle for Tokyo 2020, rather than an international candidate who might require at least a year of that cycle to bed in.

Keegan is credited with setting up the high performance structure in boxing which has yielded such unprecedented success, and when he moved to the Institute he was, ironically, succeeded by Walsh who proceeded to build spectacularly on those foundations.

Walsh's proven track record, albeit in a single sport, makes him a leading candidate to once again take up where Keegan has left off.

Sunday Indo Sport

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