Monday 23 April 2018

Walsh keen for fighters to stay clear of fan fever

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

WHEN Billy Walsh met the Mayo man of the same surname who is in charge of the boxing arena at the London Olympics, it brought home to him just how different these Games will be.

And while proximity will be a positive when it comes to support levels and exposure, the high performance head coach has warned his fighters and their families of the potential pitfalls of operating so close to home.

The Wexford native is taking his team of six to the Italian city of Assisi this week in order to get away from the building hype but, with the amount of family and fans making the short trip across the Irish Sea, he knows it will be difficult to keep a lid on the excitement of competing so close to home.

"Our best results have come in eastern Europe and in Asia," explained Walsh. "And you can work out why that is the case -- nobody goes.

"That cocooned performance mindset we have them in can be interrupted, especially being at home with family and friends. It (London) is really a home from home.

"That's the only worry I have and that's why we're getting out of Ireland for the next couple of weeks. Hopefully we can manage that.

"In Beijing, there was almost nobody there. There was a handful of people. So we used to let the boxers come up for about a half an hour after they had fought to speak to their friends and the odd coach who was there. Then they went back on the bus to the village.


"In London, if they come up to where the crowd is, there will be thousands of Irish and it will be mayhem. We're going to try and find a place where they can meet the parents separately."

Walsh brought the fighters' parents in for a meeting last week to try to prevent any issues the boxers might encounter during the increased scrutiny on them during the Olympics.

"I showed them exactly where the boys will be, what they will be doing, what we expect of them, what we expect of them as parents," he said.

"They wanted to know what they can do for their kids and we said, 'Just be normal, just try and be as normal you can'.

"You don't need to have people coming around to your house, well-wishers, because that puts pressure on these guys.

"If Johnny down the road wants you to open the supermarket, don't go; tell them you'll do it after the Games. Let them be normal.

"When they're back at weekends from training, they need rest and recovery, not to be pulled off every which way; just trying to manage all those little things is a key part of it."

Walsh describes this year's Olympics as "the first social media Games" and, while his fighters won't be banned from using Facebook or Twitter, they will discuss their use during their trip to Italy.

"We'll come to an agreement this week with the team about how we're going to manage it," he said.

"We're trying to manage that but that can also cause stress, I'm afraid. One of our guys, John Joe Nevin, nearly has two phones. Take a phone away from him and it may cause him more stress than having it so you've got to try to balance that and try and get a happy medium there.

"I had the opportunity to look at the Facebook stuff. There's a lot of 'c-words' and 'f-words'. We say to them if you're not prepared to have it tattooed on your forehead don't put it on Facebook just because everyone else can."

The Irish squad, who have been training and sparring with India and Tunisia at the National Stadium over the last three weeks, will leave for their final training camp in Assisi on Friday.

The seeding procedure for the Games will be finalised immediately after the general weigh-in on July 27, with the opening bell for the boxing due to toll the following day.

Irish Independent

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