Structural changes rather than financial motives behind Billy Walsh's decision to quit for US
Published 27/08/2015 | 02:30
Ireland's Olympic boxing prospects have been dealt a crushing blow with news of head coach Billy Walsh's imminent departure to a new post in America.
The 52-year-old Wexford man, who has effectively run Irish boxing's High Performance programme since the Beijing Olympics, is to be lost to the sport after an extraordinary sequence of events in recent days.
The Irish Sports Council believed that a package had been agreed with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association last weekend to keep Walsh at home and that that package would be brought for ratification to Tuesday night's IABA board meeting.
This did not happen, however, after the association indicated via email on Tuesday that they had changed their stance on virtually every detail of the package.
There has been a long history of tension between those running boxing's High Performance and the IABA, a fundamental clash of cultures.
But news of Walsh's departure to run the American women's programme will be seen as an astonishingly reckless price to pay for that tension.
Walsh has previously been head-hunted by the Australian and English federations, but stayed at home to build the Irish model into one of the most respected in amateur boxing.
I understand that as far back as October, the US sent a delegation to Dublin in a bid to sign him up and, during his Christmas holidays, Walsh took up the offer to go and view their set-up over four days in Colorado Springs.
He was then made an offer dwarfing his current salary in a package that included pension and health insurance, neither of which he gets from the IABA.
In February, he made the association aware of that offer and indicated certain changes he felt needed to be made to the circumstances in which Irish boxing's High Performance Programme was run.
Fundamental to this was bringing an end to the seemingly endless struggle for autonomy.
Walsh has always sought the right, as head of the programme, to pick Irish teams for competition rather than have selections imposed upon him by committee.
My understanding is that the issues most pressing to him were not related to money.
Yet, every single one of his requests was flatly rejected.
The Sports Council reacted with horror to news of the imminent loss to the sport of a man who, having competed at the Seoul Olympics himself, has now worked the corner for seven Olympic medallists as well as multiples of medal winners at European and World Championships level.
Just two weeks ago, Ireland brought two golds and a bronze home from the European Championships in Bulgaria, the latter secured by Walsh's own nephew, Dean.
The ISC, desperate to keep Walsh at home, last weekend made clear their willingness to fund any new salary for the Irish coach, as well as whatever knock-on increases it might require for other people in the programme.
Billy Walsh was not available to comment last night.