The dividing lines of opinion are definitively drawn in the sand as to whether or not Billy Walsh’s presence at the helm may have precluded the mini-malaise currently permeating Irish boxing, but the man himself would not presume to rub salt in any gaping wounds.
he Irish Olympic narrative for 2016 has, thus far, been hijacked by an unseemly subplot few, if any, saw coming.
Not one athlete representing the nation had laced up a glove or wielded an oar, when news of Michael O’Reilly’s failed drugs test shook the foundations of Irish sport.
The 23-year-old arrived in Brazil after winning gold at the European Games and a World Amateur Championship bronze in the last 14 months and, as such, the Clonmel man was expected to do great things in the middleweight bracket.
Instead, after admitting he took a supplement that may have been tainted, O’Reilly became the first Irish athlete to be sent home from the Olympiad.
Billy Walsh, who assumed the reins at the US boxing team after his acrimonious departure from the Elite Performance Unit last October, is in Rio with his new charges and, expectedly, the O’Reilly saga was put to him.
“I’m very sad about it all. The man who set up (the High Performance Unit) back in 2003 was Gary Keegan and we spoke about it the other day. Both of us are shocked by it. We’re upset by it,” he told the Irish Daily Star.
“We’re very disappointed. It’s our sport. I am a product of Irish boxing. I don’t know how they (IABA) handled it. I haven’t been reading about it.”
Of course, after Joe Ward’s deflating exit in the light-heavyweight category last night, which followed those of Paddy Barnes and David Oliver Joyce, it has also been posited that the absence of Walsh’s undoubted nous is taking a toll.
John Joe Nevin seems to think so, but Paddy Barnes begs to differ, as does Michael Carruth.
O’Reilly’s expulsion has also been offered as a reason for the in-ring travails, but Walsh reckons that there are those in the Irish set up with the metal fortitude required to shelve such distractions.
“Some of the individuals in the team are strong enough to knock it to the back. They weren’t involved in anything that went on,” Walsh said.
One such example appears to be Steven Donnelly, who takes on Byambyn Tuvshinbat for a place in the quarter finals of the welterweight bracket this afternoon at 4.45.
Last night, Walsh secured his first medal since joining the US ranks as Nico Hernandez emerged victorious in a quarter final bout, guaranteeing himself at least a bronze medal.
Obviously delighted, Walsh also cited a fond memory of one of his former pupils.
“I don’t want to gloat or anything but that’s very satisfying. That’s my first Olympic medal with the US, so it’s special.
“I remember Paddy Barnes saying a long time ago that bronze medals are for losers, but we’re delighted.”