AIDAN Walsh is the last man standing from the talent-rich Commonwealth Youth Games team that travelled to Samoa five years ago – but he has no immediate ambitions to follow his former team-mates into the professional game.
Stephen McKenna (gold), James McGivern (gold), Tiernan Bradley (silver) and Brett McGinty (silver) have all turned over to the paid ranks in recent years, with big futures seemingly lying in wait.
McKenna and brother Aaron train with the legendary Freddie Roach in Los Angeles, McGinty is working with former world champion Ricky Hatton, McGivern made his debut last month while Bradley – who was a sparring partner for MMA fighter Conor McGregor before his high-profile 2017 fight with Floyd Mayweather jr – makes his pro bow in Poland on October 8.
Walsh will be cheering them all on as they step up through the gears, but the west Belfast counter-puncher has no plans to ditch the vest any time soon.
“I’m the only amateur left,” said the 23-year-old, who brought gold home from Samoa in 2015.
“All those lads will go on and do really well, but my goal is the Olympics. If the big offers follow, then I’ll think about it.
“For now though, it’s all about Tokyo and maybe the next Commonwealths. I’d love to go there and get gold after getting silver last time [at the 2018 Games].
“You never know what’s around the corner as the past six months have shown us but, at the minute, getting qualified for the Olympics is all that matters.”
The Monkstown welterweight had already taken the first tentative steps towards that goal when the Covid-19 pandemic struck back in March.
After forcing his way onto the Irish team for the European Olympic qualifier, Walsh danced his way to victory over Estonia’s Pavel Kamanin at London’s Copper Box Arena to leave himself two wins from the Olympics.
However, just as he was due to face Frenchman Wahid Hambli, the qualifier was postponed – with the Olympics themselves following suit, put back until next summer.
The qualifier is expected to resume in February/March, and Walsh insists that he has long since moved on from any disappointment at being unable to complete the job.
“At the end of the day, I can do nothing about it.
“There’s no point me being depressed, it’s not going to make any slight difference whatsoever. That’s just the way I live my life, I take it as it comes.
“At least I fought and I won so I came away from London on a high note. Realistically, we knew before it there was a good chance it could be postponed, and people weren’t surprised then when it did happen.
“You have to take the positives. It gave me the chance to do things you maybe didn’t have time to do in recent years – I enjoyed spending more time with my girlfriend, with my family, I was fishing, kayaking…
“It made people realise there’s more to life than sport. Boxing’s only a small percentage of what’s going on, there’s much more important things than my career or anybody else’s career.
As long as I know I’m keeping myself safe and my family safe, that’s the most important thing.”
And, in terms of his Olympic ambitions, having another year to hone his skills could yet turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
The Irish team is scheduled to travel Germany next month for the Chemistry Cup, and any international experience gained between now and the resumption of the qualifier – and, he hopes, Tokyo 2021 – can only be a good thing.
“I’m still young so another year’s no problem to me,” added Walsh, who has been back training with the Ulster High Performance team in Jordanstown since the end of July.
“I’ve only been part of the Irish team for a year so for me to be in a good position to qualify for the Olympics, it’s only going to give me more experience, more time.
“Even if the pandemic hadn’t happened I believe I would’ve qualified but now I can get more international experience and get better.
“It’s been good to get back at it. Hopefully these tournaments [like the Chemistry Cup] happen but if they don’t, it’s out of everyone’s control.
“I read a good saying last week that if you want to make God smile, tell him your plans – that is so true. The boxers aren’t in control at the minute, it’s up to what the governing bodies what happens next so we just have to be ready when the time comes.”
IABA BEGIN SEARCH FOR BILLY McCLEAN REPLACEMENT
THE Belfast man who helped Ireland to unprecedented success at underage level is no longer part of the coaching set-up within the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA).
Long-serving national youth and junior coach Billy McClean has parted company with the association, leaving a big hole for the IABA to fill as they bid to continue the success enjoyed during McClean’s tenure.
The former Holy Trinity boxer was appointed to the role in 2011, replacing the departing Jim Moore, after gathering a wealth of experience working with emerging schoolboy talent in the country.
Under McClean, Ireland enjoyed some stellar years on the international stage, winning 10 World championship medals and 69 European championship medals, including 12 gold.
Already speculation has begun about who could fill his shoes, with 2008 Olympian John Joe Joyce throwing his hat into the ring.
Since hanging up the gloves, Joyce has forged a hugely successful career as an amateur coach at Olympic Boxing Club in Mullingar, and would relish the opportunity to work with some of the top talent in the country.
“I would love that position,” he said in a post of Facebook.
“I love to work the next generation of boxers we have coming through, I think they could benefit from me and what I have done in my boxing days and my early coaching days at Olympic Boxing Club.
“I was in this Irish High Performance programme for 12 years, learning from Zaur Anita, Billy Walsh, Gary Keegan and lots more great coaches, also learning from some of the best boxers Kenny Egan, Andy Lee, Darren O'Neill, Roy Sheahan, Darren Sutherland, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan.
“If the position available I would love it. It’s something I am very passionate about, working with the next generation of Irish boxers.”