Tuesday 23 January 2018

'I was crying this morning over decision' – Billy Walsh reveals anguish over boxing resignation

Walsh reveals that the last eight months have been "very, very stressful" and taken its toll on his health.

Billy Walsh has resigned from the IABA
Billy Walsh has resigned from the IABA
Michael Conlan is embraced by Irish coach Billy Walsh after winning gold at the World Amateur Boxing Championships

Sean McGoldrick and Declan Whooley

Billy Walsh has said that for his own dignity and respect he had to resign as head coach of Ireland's High Performance Unit and move to a new role in the United States.

Just days after master-minding Ireland’s best ever performance at the World Boxing championships in Doha, Walsh announced his resignation after eight months of negotiations with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) failed to come to a resolution.

At the end of the championships in Doha Walsh hinted that he was optimistic that there would be a successful outcome to his protracted contractual talks with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. However, he dropped a bombshell today by announcing that he was quitting and will be taking up a role with USA Boxing.

"Regrettably the IABA has not made it possible for me to continue on in the role as Head Coach of the High Performance Unit and senior team," he said.

Speaking on RTE Radio's News at One, Walsh admitted it was the most difficult decision of his professional career but said he had no choice but to move on.

"It's time for me to move on, I have a deadline as well with people from America who offered me a position as head coach," he said. "It was a take-it or leave it and I pushed the decision back eight months for everything to be resolved, but unfortunately that didn't happen.

Michael Conlan is embraced by Irish coach Billy Walsh after winning gold at the World Amateur Boxing Championships
Michael Conlan is embraced by Irish coach Billy Walsh after winning gold at the World Amateur Boxing Championships

"It was about respect around your role and position, to lead your team through to Rio.

"It's a long-term venture which gives me a bit of security and it's a fantastic opportunity."

Walsh was anxious to stay in Ireland and had agreed terms of a new contract with the Irish Sports Council who fund his position.

However, the terms of the new contract were not acceptable to the IABA. For the past month Walsh has concentrated his energies on preparing the Irish men’s team for the World championships in Doha.

Walsh will travel to the USA on Thursday to take up the position as coach with the USA Women’s Boxing Team at their base in Colorado Springs.

The Wexford native was a guest of USA Boxing earlier this year at their base in Colorado Springs.

The Americans were advertising the position of women’s coach on their official website for the last number of months but the posting has been removed.

Walsh told listeners that the stress of the negotiations had taken its toll.

"Mentally, it's been very, very stressful over the last eight months. It has taken its toll in some ways," he admitted.

"I spent a lot of time crying this morning around this decision, but I think for the best of my health, for my future, it's the best way for me to move on.

"I went back time after time to try and make this work. For my own dignity and respect I felt I couldn't stoop any lower.

In a statement released earlier today, Walsh thanked the Irish Sporting Council for their efforts in trying to solve the impasse which led him to resigning.

"I wish to express my gratitude to the Irish Sports Council for all their support and commitment to the IABA High Performance Programme over the course of the last 14 years and most recently in trying to broker an agreement on this matter," his statement read.

"The Sports Council have supported Irish boxing and worked tirelessly to find a solution."

"While leaving the Irish Team has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, my sights are now firmly set on my future role with USA Boxing.  It is a huge honor for me as a coach to receive the opportunity work with such an iconic sporting nation that is the USA. I am greatly looking forward to the opportunities ahead in bringing my expertise and experience to the USA Women’s Team as they prepare for success in Rio and beyond."

Walsh’s resignation is a massive blow to Irish boxing just seven months away from the Rio Olympics. Ireland finished in a record high fourth place in the medal table at the World championships in Doha with Michael Conlan becoming the first Irish boxer to win a gold medal at the event.

It remains to be seen whether a last minute solution can be found but the IABA will come under enormous pressure to explain why they couldn’t hold on to the services of Walsh who had been Head Coach of the High Performance since it was set up in 2003.

Since then Irish boxers has won seven Olympic medals and they set for more success in Rio but the future of the IPU has now been plunged into doubt.

Ironically Walsh's first assignment will be the women’s World championships in Kazakhstan in January where Ireland’s Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor will be bidding to qualify for the Rio Games.

Olympic boxer Darren O'Nelll took to Twitter to voice his disappointment with today's confirmation.

"291 days til Rio & Billy Walsh sadly leaves our most successful team after 8months of negotiating with IABA #BIGLOSS," he posted on his account.

Former WBA, and European Super Bantamweight champion Bernard Dunne believes there are issues involved that have not been made public.

"You want somebody to be able to stand over his own team, to select his own team and it doesn't seem to be a money issue," he told The Joe Duffy Show on RTE Radio One.

"This is our leader-in-chief going onto new pastures and we don't want that to happen. If there was some way there could be some mediation, Jimmy Magee has offered his services, but I'm sure that [mediation] has already been tried.

"There is obviously something in there the IABA are unhappy with, we just don't know all the facts."

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin paid tribute to Walsh's achievements within the sport.

"I’m hugely disappointed, I’ve known Billy for many years he is Ireland’s most successful coach by a country mile. He has brought extraordinary distinction to the sport of boxing, I think he’s elevated to a new height among the sporting people of Ireland.

"I know enormous efforts were put in place. I’ve had conversations with Pascal Donohoe, the minister for sport, I know he has made extraordinary efforts.

"We need to have some explanation as to why this could not be brought about because a sport is general is the poorer for that decision.

"I wish to thank Billy for his contribution to Irish Amateur Boxing over the last number of years and I wish him every success for the future."

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