Antia not worried by possible Walsh showdown in Rio

Irish interim head coach Zaur Antia speaks to the media at Jordanstown yesterday. Picture: Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

IRISH interim head coach Zaur Antia insists he is not worried about pitting his wits against former colleague Billy Walsh at this summer’s Olympic Games.

Antia and Walsh worked side-by-side for over a decade, and during this time the High Performance unit earned the moniker ‘the medal factory’.

But the pair could find themselves in opposite corners in Brazil, after Walsh’s high-profile exit from the top coaching post last October.

Following a breakdown in contract negotiations with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association [IABA], the Wexford man swapped Ireland for the USA.

It was initially thought that Walsh would only be involved with the US women’s team, but his brief has since been extended to the men, and he is currently helping prepare the USA Knockouts team for the World Series of Boxing.

In Rio, he could be in the corner for lightweight hopeful Mikaela Mayer, should she qualify, setting up a possible showdown with Irish golden girl and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor.

World champion Michael Conlan, meanwhile, could come up against the highly-rated US bantamweight Shakur Stevenson.

No matter what happens though, Antia believes the Irish will come out on top.

“I know what he [Walsh] knows. He is my friend. But when I meet him, I have to beat him – this is my plan,” said Antia, speaking during an Irish and Ulster High Performance team training camp at Jordanstown yesterday.

“We will be more smart, and we will win. I know his boxers, my coaching team have investigated, and we have a plan A, plan B and we will have a plan C as well.

“We will see – God bless. But I have big confidence, I always have this.

“Billy made his decision. We have a good relationship, we worked together many years.

“But we are still working here – we have an excellent plan, very good skilled boxers, good strategy and coaches.

“Everybody is united for one purpose.”

Antia says he is aiming for the “maximum” number of medals at this summer’s Games.

However, he would not be drawn on what the future held for him after the team returns from Rio at the end of August.

Popular with fighters and fellow coaches, Antia has been courted by other nations in the past.

IABA will not appoint a permanent replacement for Walsh until after the Olympics, and Antia says his focus is purely on getting the best out of his Irish boxers.

He continued: “It is a nice question, but difficult too. At this moment, I am only thinking to get the boxers ready. To win as many gold medals as possible out there. Then I will start thinking about that – not now.

“I know one thing. My assessment, and who I am, all the boxers know, better than anybody else. And I am so happy they respect me, and I respect them.

“Every day I am thinking about them – what’s missing, how [can we] make them happy, how can we develop reaction speed, or some weakness I want to remove. Day and night, that’s what I’m thinking.

“You have to think about the maximum [amount of medals]. Of course – why am I working here? I am working with confidence.

“Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Katie – they are the soul of the team. The rest of the team are together, we have more chances to qualify, and I expect more to qualify.

“We are in a good stage. We have good boxers here – we can and we will achieve.”

Walsh is widely credited with helping revolutionise Irish boxing during his time at the helm, although he was always quick to talk up the tactical nous of his Georgian cohort.

With Walsh gone, all eyes are on his interim replacement.

Yet Antia insists he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to succeed in the post-Billy Walsh era.

“I don’t know this pressure – I’m serious,” he said.

“The more pressure I have, the better I feel. I know there are expectations but when I am working, I have confidence.

“When I work, pressure is not so difficult for me.”

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