Walsh ‘disgusted' by reports his exit cost Ireland medals
FORMER Irish head coach Billy Walsh says he is “disgusted” at suggestions his exit from the Ireland set-up last year contributed to the team’s disappointing performance at the Olympic Games in Rio.
The Wexford man departed for America in acrimonious circumstances in November 2015, with his partner in crime Zaur Antia taking up the reins on an interim basis alongside Eddie Bolger and John Conlan.
However, things have not gone to plan in Brazil, with Katie Taylor amazingly joining fellow medal hopes Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward in falling at the first hurdle yesterday, while David Oliver Joyce, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly bowed out before the medal stages.
Throw into the mix the revelation of Michael O’Reilly’s positive drugs test just days before the Olympics started, and the result is plenty of people suggesting that Walsh’s departure from the top post has had a snowball effect. Barnes insisted on Twitter this was not the case, with Michael Conlan also having his say, and Walsh was quick to agree with his former charges.
“It’s terrible – very unfair on the team and the coaching staff, because I know how much effort they have put in. My name shouldn’t be associated with it at all, I’ve been out of there for nine months now,” said Walsh, who has overseen a successful Olympic campaign in his new post with the US boxing team.
“People have got to realise that the guys in there, the work they do is fantastic. I was just the link with those guys, I know exactly what they can do and how they operate - it’s a very similar system to what we were running. “It’s very unfair – I’m disgusted actually when my name is mentioned. It’s the easy option. If I was there would it have been any better? I don’t know. “What would people have been saying if it happened and I was there? They’d be saying get rid of him.”
Speaking to The Irish News before the Games, Walsh said a successful campaign for Ireland would represent “a dream come true” on a personal level. Despite no longer being part of the set-up, Walsh remains on good terms with the Irish coaching staff and all the fighters.
He says he has been as disappointed as anybody at how the team had fared in Brazil. “We were in camp with them and everybody seemed to be good, everybody was in good form in sparring with us and the Brazilians,” he said.
“I was disappointed like everybody else – I soldiered with those guys for the last 14 years. I was disappointed for Paddy and for guys you felt had medal potential."
Walsh was still in charge when Barnes entered the World Series of Boxing in early 2015, the competition from which he qualified for his third Olympics.
The north Belfast fighter claimed he could no longer make the 49 kilogram weight following his shock first round departure last week, but Walsh says it was never a consideration to try and qualify Barnes at flyweight. “He’s too small for it,” he said.
“He went up in 2013 at the World Championships, when he wasn’t supposed to go up, and he was too small. He looked small against that Spaniard [Samuel Carmona]. “In WSB you were allowed 24 hours to recover, the difficulty here is you’re weighing in at seven in the morning and fighting at 11.
“It’s difficult for everybody. In fairness, we had practiced it, we ran our training sessions at that time, had the guys up early, got them into a routine of rehydrating and having themselves ready at 11 o’clock to fight.”
Despite what looks like being a disappointing end to his Olympic career, Walsh believes double bronze medal winner Barnes has plenty to be proud of.
He added: “Paddy has a fantastic reputation and a fantastic track record in boxing. “He has been a war horse for Ireland for the last decade, he’s won European golds, European silvers, Commonwealth Games golds, he’s won two Olympic medals, he’s been a great servant to Irish boxing and he should be proud of himself.”