Monday 20 January 2020

We are guilty of taking our coaches for granted

Former Irish coach Billy Walsh
Former Irish coach Billy Walsh

Ger Gilroy

The art of management is complicated, but the greats make it look simple. Brian Cody and Billy Walsh have it.

Really brilliant management happens almost imperceptibly to the people being managed and it's only in the absence of it that it can be fully appreciated.

Look at what happened to Manchester United when Alex Ferguson left.

Ireland's Olympic boxers have been quick to rubbish the notion that any aspect of the car crash that has been their Rio experience is down to the absence of Billy Walsh.

Walsh was the first lieutenant to Gary Keegan as they designed and built the high performance unit with their brain power and their dedication.

Keegan was never treated properly and left. Walsh, despite never being treated properly either, continued the work and advanced it still further before effectively being forced out. He'd seen it all from the ground up and experienced everything - with the exception of a positive sample returned by one of his Olympians.

This stuff matters and it can't be cheated. Experience matters in all walks of life and in all sports and was ultimately the difference between Kilkenny and Waterford last weekend.

The controversial defeat of Walsh's star boxer, Mikaela Mayer, must have been some consolation to a beleaguered IABA, a tiny piece of evidence that he wasn't a panacea to the ills besetting Irish boxing.

It misses the point of course. As do all the tweets and commentary saying he couldn't have prevented the positive drug test or made it easier for Paddy Barnes to make the weight or convinced the judges that Katie Taylor was in fact the winner of her fight on Monday.

Do we really understand management in Ireland?

There's a sense abroad that Cody has some magic wand that he waves and his goalkeepers fetch sliothars over the bar, his unheralded bolters catch match-winning balls and his mere presence changes referee's minds.

He's no magician, though. Neither was Walsh. They instil standards, constantly challenge themselves and those around them and dream big. It's a decent combination and it leads to remarkable results. Culture is people and these two built great cultures.

Joe Schmidt has done something similar and when he's gone we'll really feel his absence.

None of the criticism of the decision to allow Walsh to leave is a criticism of Zaur Antia. The defensiveness about Antia's role misses the point too.

The ecosystem, carefully developed and tended over a decade, has been destroyed.

Antia had a perfect storm to face from the very second the draw was made in Rio but these fights were lost in a million little details leeching out of the picture over the last nine months.

That lesson must be heeded everywhere in Irish sport.

Irish Independent

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