Sunday 27 May 2018

Barnes worried Antia will be poached as he laments loss of 'brilliant' mentor

Paddy Barnes described Billy Walsh's departure as a loss to Irish boxing
Paddy Barnes described Billy Walsh's departure as a loss to Irish boxing
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Double Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes has described Billy Walsh's resignation as "a big loss to Irish boxing."

And he warned that if Walsh's right-hand man Zaur Antia also leaves, the blow to Ireland's world-beating High Performance Unit will be even greater.

The Belfast light-flyweight outlined the complementary strengths of the world-renowned coaching duo who have made Irish boxing such a powerhouse over the last 10 years.

"Zaur is the best technical coach you could ever have," said Barnes .

"Billy leads the boxers in the right direction and plans tournaments and when to fight. He's a brilliant performance planner and performance manager.

"It will be a loss to me personally because we've had a working relationship for so long. It will take a while for someone else to come in and fill that void."

The worry now is that other countries will move quickly to try and lure Antia, whose technical expertise has been such an addition to Irish boxing in the past decade.

Barnes said Antia's technical coaching has been a huge factor in Ireland's success and that his knowledge of Eastern European boxing has been another massive asset in helping Ireland repeatedly bringing home medals, including three from this year's World Championships.

Asked if he was worried that Antia might also leave now, Barnes said: "For Irish boxing, yeah, but for myself, no because I've (already) learnt a lot from him."

Speaking at the announcement that Electric Ireland will sponsor Team Ireland for the Rio Olympics, Barnes revealed that Walsh had informed him of his decision by text yesterday morning.

He admitted that he and Walsh did not always see eye to eye but were always able to work through issues.

"It was just stupid stuff we'd disagree on. We'd argue one week and be best friends the next week. Billy knew that," the Belfast light-flyweight admitted.

Walsh's shock departure was, he said, "the end of an era, definitely. But there are a lot of good coaches in Irish boxing, who are capable of taking us further," he added, singling out John Conlan, father of world champion Michael.

Earlier this year John Conlan was among those arguing that Irish boxing simply could not afford to lose Walsh, describing the Wexford man and Antia as "the lynchpin of the whole team".

Conlan added: "If they (IABA) bring somebody else in, it's going to take five to ten years to get to where Billy and Zaur are. Why would you do that?"

Antia, meanwhile, last night paid tribute to Walsh on his Facebook page.

"Thirteen years is not 13 days. In high performance sport 13 years can be many life times," he wrote.

"Thirteen years we worked together. In this work and this time we have created history and created friendship. We achieved so much together. We worked so closely together and worked very hard with huge charisma, spirit and heart and this created a very special team spirit.

"Now today when I read your statement, its very difficult to believe your resigning, Billy. But this is fate of life, of future and sometimes in order to grow we must change, even if that change is painful. I am certain that anywhere you go, you will bring same incredible achievements to that country.

"What you have given us and what you leave here is a big and strong team which will continue your mission and every achievement here will belong to your name. Your passion will be present in every step we take."

Irish Independent

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