Friday 24 November 2017

Vincent Hogan: Everybody feels bad, but nobody feels responsible


Boxing Coach Billy Walsh
Boxing Coach Billy Walsh
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

In the interests of being parliamentary, they left their gloves at the door.

So, on the day Billy Walsh officially began life with USA Boxing, last week's smoky protagonists gave us just short of four tortuous hours in the Oireachtas chamber that had the ache of hostile in-laws feigning peace for a family gathering. Conclusions to draw?

Everybody feels bad about the loss of a good man, but nobody feels responsible. Last week's primary gunslingers, Kieran Mulvey and Joe Christle, all but fluttered eyelashes at one another, putting down any intemperate language used to "sheer frustration" (in Mulvey's case) and plain old "shock" (for Christle).

So the respective chairs of Sport Ireland and the Irish Amateur Boxing Association will work at making things better in the future.


Remarkably, much of the debate still focused on the financial package required to retain Walsh's services despite the fact that that aspect had been resolved on the intervention of Minister Michael Ring. The IABA's statement last Thursday and Christle's attendant radio interviews seemed happy to ignore this.

Even two-and-a-half hours into yesterday's session, Christle talked about nobody in the room knowing "what he was actually offered in America". As if the scale of the US offer was the ultimate impediment to Billy Walsh remaining in Ireland.

A grenade was even tossed at the weekend suggesting that other (un-named) coaches and boxers were "irate" at the idea of Walsh getting a salary increase.

Some facts: Billy Walsh never sought to have his new deal benchmarked in any way with what was on offer to him from the US. He had agreed to a financial package that would involve him resigning from his permanent position and taking up a new three-year, fixed-term contract. This arrangement would spare the IABA any "follow-on" issues with other members of staff who might feel the right to demand commensurate pay rises. On top of this, the Sports Council committed to setting up an independent review into the salary structures of the IABA, with recommendations being implemented by January 1, 2016.

Can we be clear on that? Billy Walsh did not leave because of money. He left because he never believed the IABA was sincere in its desire to keep him. He left because the contract eventually sent to his solicitor on September 17, a contract described as "ludicrous" by one of his negotiators, was sent back with in excess of 60 amendment requests (all to do with job autonomy).

Now, it's true, there's a slight divergence of opinion on what happened next. Bizarrely, the IABA did not respond to those amendment requests until October 8 despite knowing the time-pressure Walsh was now under from the Americans to make a decision. That response, according to Walsh's solicitor, only came after two reminders had been sent to the Association.

IABA solicitor Ciaran Kirwan yesterday - who was not part of this process - put the delay down to "timelines" with solicitors on both sides taking "annual leave" and "the difficulty in clearly getting instructions from Billy Walsh himself when he was in fact head coach over in Doha" (at the World Championships).


Whilst the IABA view is that roughly "half" of the requested amendments had been acceded to, Walsh's side is of the opinion that nothing substantive was conceded.

Christle said that, contrary to Walsh's own recall of his February revelation that the US had made an offer, the chairman's instant response was, "Oh my God, this is so close to the Rio Olympics. I nearly fell down the's a very steep stairs. I had a deep pain in the pit of my stomach".

Yet, through the subsequent eight months, Walsh interpreted no such despair in the IABA's attitude to the thought of him leaving. On the contrary, he found their approach to negotiations routinely hostile and was shocked at the "tone and content" of the eventual fixed-term contract offered.

The Association's frankly dysfunctional history with the Sports Council and, indeed, its own High Performance unit went largely unexplored yesterday as much of that dysfunction pre-dated those present in the chamber yesterday.

Yet, former athlete and now senator, Eamonn Coghlan, told Christle flatly, "I don't believe you", in response to his insistence that the IABA chair wanted Walsh to stay in Ireland. And Sport Ireland's John Treacy was asked if they had confidence in the IABA Board and its CEO, Fergal Carruth. "I would say our confidence is shaken!" said Treacy.

Looks like the future is doomed to be a mirror of the past.

US back 'Coach Walsh' to rouse sleeping giant

Billy Walsh has admitted that it's a 'fairytale' to be named head coach to USA Boxing.

The 52-year-old Wexford man penned a three-year deal with extensions at the USA Olympic trials in Memphis yesterday, but the Americans want him to stay up to and beyond the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

USA Boxing announced yesterday that Walsh had signed - almost at the same time as the hearing into his resignation as Irish head coach was under way in Leinster House.

"It's a fairytale for me," said Walsh. "I'm from the working-class area of Wolfe Tone Villas in Wexford and here I am now as USA head coach.

"I've loved boxing all my life, both as a boxer and a coach with Ireland. It's an honour to be coach to the world's top boxing nation."

The Americans are far from the world's top boxing nation, according to the medals table at the last two Olympics and World Championships.

Indeed, Ireland, with Walsh at the helm, finished in fourth and fifth spot in the medals and rankings table at the recent 69-nation World Elite Men's Championships in Qatar.

The Americans didn't manage to win a medal and finished joint 29th in the rankings, but the USA remains at the head of the all-time Olympic medals table ahead of Cuba and Russia. They are still considered the sleeping giants of the sport and it will be Walsh's task to awaken them from their slumber.

"That's the job alright and I relish the challenge. When I left home that was the reason I came here. They've (Americans) been nothing but honourable to me," he added. "I met with the Olympic Council (USOC) and they're going to back me all the way and support me all the way.

"The contract is for three years and beyond. It says in it also that they will be trying everything to ensure that Mr Walsh stays beyond Tokyo (2020 Olympics). It was with great pride that I was part of building the successful Irish programme and I hope to do the same with USA Boxing."

USA Boxing executive director Mike Martino believes they have got the best man for the job.

"Coach Walsh brings extensive experience and knowledge with a proven record of success on the international boxing stage," he said.

"He provides great leadership and stability for our female athletes, particularly the resident boxers at the Olympic Training Centre."

Walsh's first task will be prepare for the World Women's Championships and Olympic qualifiers in Kazakhstan in January. However, it's understood the event might be now pushed back to April.

Irish Independent

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