Tuesday 20 February 2018

No contract, no job security - it's time to make Walsh a better offer

WHAT ARE we all going to do for the rest of the so-called summer? For 17 days we have been enthralled and entertained by the marvellous exploits of the greatest athletes on the planet.

It has been a wonderful spectacle, hosted by a nation who put on a show that will be hard to surpass or even match. The coverage provided by BBC also added to the whole occasion as they provided comprehensive exposure of almost every event.

The majority of their commentators gave a balanced view of each event and the addition of former Olympic champions from other countries helped to add the required expert analysis. Of course there was some bias and triumphalism, but we are not too bad at those ourselves so we can't really complain. I think for the first time ever the majority of Irish people were even cheering for the British competitors as long as they weren't in opposition to an Irish athlete.

Not only did the British government invest hundreds of millions in the required infrastructure, but they also invested copious amounts of money into coaching and athlete development. The results they achieved were staggering as they won an unprecedented 29 gold medals from a total of 65.

Some people would deem this expenditure a waste of money, but what they have done is to create a generation of heroes to inspire children to take part in sport, not just in their country but here in Ireland too. Everybody knows that society has changed and fewer and fewer young people are exercising, preferring to play with computers or playstations.

So in my opinion if these games can serve to encourage all ages to get involved in some form of sport, they will have achieved their aim and justified the massive investment. It is a proven fact that by improving health and lifestyle through exercise and sport, countries will save billions on the long-term costs of future health care.

This year 85 of the 204 countries taking part won a medal, with Ireland finishing 41st in the medal roll of honour. Grenada won its first-ever medal, a gold in the men's 400m, and to celebrate the President gave the country a day off. Rumour has it to celebrate Katie's gold medal our government is going to try to get everyone a day's work!

Unless you have been away on Mars for the last week you will know that once again our boxers led by example, winning one gold, one silver and two bronze. They finished fifth in the medal table behind highly-populated countries like Britain (63m), Ukraine (46m), Cuba (11.5m) and Russia (142m). Not bad for a country with a population of 4.5 million people.

Since 1956 we have won 19 Olympic medals in total, which incldes the four won by Michelle Smyth in Atlanta that have never really been celebrated. So of the 15 more recognised medals, our own Billy Walsh has been responsible for coaching the teams that have brought home seven of those medals over the last two Olympic games; an amazing statistic of almost 50 per cent.

As he says himself 'not bad for a man from the Villas'. This proud record will never be surpassed by another coach in the history of Irish sport, but the big question is, will Billy be in the position to add to his amazing tally?

Over the last few days there has been widespread speculation over his position as head of the High Performance Unit. The Irish Sports Council is fully behind him and his assistant Zaur Antia and offer as much support as they can.

However, he is the worst paid of all High Performance head coaches in Ireland, despite surpassing them in results and medal hauls. This is a ludicrous situation, especially when you also consider the vast salaries enjoyed by the top men in other sports like John Delaney, and Trappatoni, who have won nothing on the world stage with Ireland.

Any decision he makes on his future will be for the good of Billy Walsh and his family. For the last ten years he has selflessly dedicated his life to his sport and his country, as he admits himself at the expense of his family, friends and lifestyle.

There are a number of criteria that will determine whether he will stay or not. One of them is not hard to work out as it is a basic economic reality. He is based in Wexford, travels to Dublin at his own expense two to three times per week and has three great children to put through college this year.

He has no contract and no security for the future. Offers from other interests have been and will be made and considered, but he would really love to stay in the job he cherishes most.

He has plans and changes that need to be implemented to improve the system and thus keep the medal conveyor belt rolling. It is obvious whose hands his destiny lies in, and it will be interesting to see how they respond.

I would also like to thank the editor of this paper who has agreed to save a few euros every week to send me to Rio to cover the next games in four years. It will be a tough ask, but sure it would be bad manners to refuse.

Finally, for the six or seven people who have already read Tom Dempsey's article on the facing page I would like to update you on our progress with the volleyball.

We have been training vigorously for the last three months on a table-tennis table with the net at full height. At this stage both of us can just about reach the top of the net when fully stretched.

As a result we feel if we are accepted we will be ready to take on anybody when the rule changes are made. We will gladly take Tom as our coach, physio and especially our kit washing man.

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