Seconds Out: Aidan Walsh ready to take on World after fearing Olympic dream was over
WORLD championship-bound Aidan Walsh has admitted fearing his Olympic dreams were on the ropes before forcing his way back into the Tokyo 2020 reckoning.
The Monkstown welterweight lost a split decision to Paddy Donovan at the Irish elite championships back in February, with Kieran Molloy then defeating the Limerick stylist in the decider.
That left Walsh down the pecking order heading into a crucial period leading towards next summer’s games.
However, when it became clear Donovan was set to turn pro - he was snapped up by US giants Top Rank in June - the north Belfast counter-puncher was invited down to the high performance unit in Abbotstown.
And Walsh was rewarded with a place on the Irish team bound for the World elite championships in Yekaterinburg, Russia next month (September 7-21).
“After the Irish elites, obviously I didn’t know what was going to happen. The Olympics has been my goal since I was kid, so when I lost, initially after that I was thinking ‘is that my Olympic dream over?’” said the 22-year-old, who is currently at the German Olympic Centre in Kienbaum for a pre-Worlds training camp.
“But then we heard Paddy had gone pro, and I was asked down to Dublin for assessments before the European Games, so I’ve been in Dublin now full-time since April.
“In that time I’ve been away to Sweden, Netherlands, Ukraine and different camps, so I’ve been ticking all the boxes since then, doing everything asked of me. Just keeping the head down and working hard, as I always do.
“I could easily have give it up and said ‘I’ll just wait until 2024’ or whatever, but I’ve stuck at it and taken any opportunity I was given since, and here I am now.
“That shows the commitment I have, and the type of person I am. I’ve had plenty of wins and plenty of losses. The day after losing to Paddy Donovan I was out training - you can’t let a loss define you.”
And where the reigning Irish champion would traditionally be chosen for international duty, high performance director Bernard Dunne and the Irish coaches instead ran a programme of continuous assessment.
After “three or four spars” with Molloy, they decided to give Walsh his shot at the big time.
“They all went well for me,” says Walsh of those spars.
“Kieran Molloy’s obviously one of the best boxers in Ireland at 69, and for him to win Irish titles two years in-a-row shows that he’s a very good boxer.
“Everyone down there’s in the same position, but it’s just in my nature to always try to be the best I can be at everything. That environment suits me. Even if there wasn’t assessments, I always want to try to be number one. I’m used to that with Michaela, that constant competitive environment, it’s brought us both on.
“It’s an intense situation, of course it is. It’s your future – outside of my girlfriend and my family, I’ve no other things apart from boxing. I’m giving this my all because it’s something I’ve been doing since I was seven.
“I have a good family, I just keep everything close, keep everything small. You’ve seen a lot of boxers through the years get carried away with things outside boxing, it’s very easy to do, but it’s not me.
“When I was told I’d been selected, I was over the moon … to be honest, it was nearly more of a relief that all the hard work had paid off.”
The Worlds may not represent a direct qualification route for the Olympics, but it is an opportunity for Walsh to gauge where he stands amongst elite opposition.
Already the next Irish elite championships - which will run from November 18-22 - promise to be an explosive affair, with spots up for grabs at the European Olympic qualifier in London next February.
And Walsh is determined to lay down a marker to keep those Tokyo dreams alive.
He said: “Getting to the Worlds was a massive goal, but the Olympics is the pinnacle and I’ll give everything to get there.
“I remember [Monkstown coach] Paul Johnston saying to me after the Donovan fight ‘look Aidan, no matter what happens, you will be successful and you will be an Olympian’. That meant a lot. It’s great to have the support of people who mean the most to you in life.
“For me to show I am a world class athlete, this is the place. Everything happens for a reason, I truly believe that, and I just can’t wait to get started.”
STAR DUO READY TO SHOW THEIR SKILLS STATESIDE
TWO north Belfast boxers are to trade Star for the star spangled banner as they prepare to head Stateside in the coming weeks.
Reigning Ulster bantamweight champion JP Hale is on a 12-strong team that flies out to Detroit on Sunday as part of the Bridges Beyond Boxing initiative, while Lee McKee joins a Gleann BC team bound for Philadelphia on September 14.
“JP has one fight in Detroit, then it’s down to Cincinnati for what they call a smoker, or an exhibition, before another fight against Cuba,” explained Star coach Liam Corr.
“Last year was a massive year for him, and hopefully he can build on that and have a good crack at the Irish elites in November. He’s still only 18 so we’re not putting any pressure on him, but we’ll put him in and see how he goes.
“Obviously Kurt Walker’s the top dog in Europe [at 57kg] so we don’t think we’re at that standard yet, but you have to start somewhere. Our long term goals are the Commonwealths in Birmingham and then the Olympics in 2024.
“We know he can fight but there are some things he maybe needs to touch up on, especially at international level. Trips like this are great for getting that international experience.”
And Hale has been getting in some top quality sparring ahead of his international venture after doing some rounds with three-time Olympian Paddy Barnes.
“It was a brilliant spar, and Paddy was excellent with him, giving wee tips and pointers and had a wee chat with him after,” added Corr.
“It was brilliant for his confidence.”
‘Bronzed Bomber’ McKee, meanwhile, will showcase his talents against the Jack Costello boxing club at the famous ‘Irish Fall festival’ in Wildwood on Thursday, September 19.