Walsh claims Worlds squad stronger than class of Beijing
BILLY WALSH believes the squad he will take to the 2011 AIBA World Championships in Azerbaijan is stronger than the one which collected three Olympic medals in Beijing.
While gauging the relative abilities of boxers from different years can often be a pointless exercise, the fact remains Walsh is a coach whose high intelligence has been sharpened by a decade at the top of his trade, and whose venerable status among the Irish boxing community was solidified following the success of Kenny Egan, the late Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes at the 2008 Olympics.
Since then, Barnes, Ray Moylette and Joe Ward have been tutored by Walsh to European gold and John Joe Nevin to a World Championship bronze.
"Seven of our squad are ranked in the world top 11," said Walsh. "Five have won medals at European level and three are Olympians.
"We didn't have that experience when we went to Beijing. That's the difference now.
"All 10 of these guys are capable of qualifying for the London Games. I'm excited by what lies ahead."
He should be. For, while Egan remains the team's father figure, there is a sense that his team-mates -- Ward, Nevin, Barnes and Moylette in particular -- are the coming men.
Not that Egan's sporting obituary should be written just yet. Still a wonderful competitor, and a man whose 29-year-old face remains undamaged despite the fact Azerbaijan will be his sixth World Championships, he is adamant this tournament can bring rich rewards.
"We wouldn't be ranked so high in the world if we weren't any use," said Egan.
"But where we are on paper is only so relevant. Where we will be at the end of this tournament is what matters. Let's see if we bring home the pudding. That's the test."
And it is a test that begins in 20 days time -- when Ireland's 10-man team arrive in Baku with the dual purpose of adding to their medal collection and qualifying for the Olympics.
A quarter-final spot would guarantee that latter objective, although the boxers who are defeated in the last 16 by the eventual gold and silver medallists at these championships, will also receive a ticket to London.
Failing that, there is a secondary qualifying tournament in Istanbul next April.
"We don't want to wait until then," said Walsh. "We want success now. There is nobody out there we cannot beat. We hope to come back with the goods."