Sunday 19 November 2017

Boxing: We failed to deal with Olympic glory -- Walsh

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

IRISH boxing did everything right for its athletes ahead of the last Olympics but didn't prepare them for what happened afterwards, its head coach admitted yesterday.

"We just thought it was 'well done lads, good luck and enjoy it'," said Billy Walsh of the sensational three-medal haul in Beijing by Ken Egan, Paddy Barnes and the late Darren Sutherland.

"We didn't think anything would happen but people's lives completely changed," Walsh said ruefully.

Sutherland turned professional almost immediately following the games and, tragically, took his own life a year later.

Egan struggled with a drink problem but is now in full recovery and bidding to qualify for next summer's Olympics.

Walsh conceded that, despite the international acclaim given to Irish boxing's vaunted high-performance programme, athletes were not adequately prepared for their 2008 success.

Steps have now formally been taken to address that and Walsh has warned other Irish sports to do the same, particularly given the proximity of the Games in London.

"We thought of having the success, but who thought of what you had to deal with in the aftermath?" said Walsh.

"Kenny became a celebrity overnight and he loved it. He enjoyed it like a normal red-blooded man, got caught up in it and it was hard to come off it. Thankfully he's well out of it now and it's 14 or 15 months since he touched a drink.

"When we were here for the (Olympic boxing) test event last week we were thinking 'it's London, it's London,' but half the people working as stewards in the arena were Irish. We knew them all," Walsh said.

"We have the wheels in progress to look after that (success) now. We've talked about it with our own board and with the Institute of Sport and there will be people to look after athletes before we go and when we come back."

Ireland already has three boxers -- John Joe Nevin, Darren O'Neill and Michael Conlan -- who have qualified for London.

But Walsh said he believes this figure will be five, if not more, after the final qualifying tournament in Istanbul next April.

"We had seven guys vying for medals in Baku (World Championships) -- we should have got five but one was beaten on count-back and one got a warning with four seconds to go," he said.

"We'll have a group of athletes in Istanbul again.

"In Paddy Barnes' weight division there's five (qualifying) places available, in 60kg there's four spots left and there's three in 81kg.

"We have really good quality there in David Oliver Joyce, Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward or Kenny Egan."

Despite the IABA's suggestions that boxers vying domestically for the one spot may be forced to 'box off', Walsh re-stated his preference that such issues, like the heavyweight spot between Ward and Egan, would be decided by next year's national championships.

Irish Independent

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