By Michael O’Neill
“This Government has a proud record on sport – and there is more to come’ screamed the banner headline in yesterday’s ‘Sunday Independent’ sports supplement.
Mayo’s Michael Ring TD and Dublin’s Paschal Donohoe may have been on opposing sides in that Croke Park thriller on Sunday but now they have a chance, albeit arguably on paper, a ‘slim one’ of achieving the desired result and ensuring that Wexford’s Billy Walsh remains in place as Ireland’s Head Coach when the 2015 AIBA World Championships take place in Doha next month. True they may not succeed but surely ‘better to have tried and failed’ than never to have tried at all?
Michael Ring as Minister for Sport with control of the purse strings through the Irish Sports Council should be – and hopefully is – at his desk right now ensuring that the IABA ‘comes to its senses’ and sees the ‘error of its ways’. After all the Irish Sports Council had already agreed to ‘bankroll’ any additional payments or benefits such as health insurance and pensions. So for what possible reason could ‘the suits’ have reneged on an agreement that they had shaken hands on just days before?
Hard to know what was going through the minds of the IABA Executive last week – baffling! Even herlock Holmes might be baffled.
If Walsh departs for pastures new – and who would blame him ? – then it will have far reaching consequences for decades to come and Ireland, now a boxing powerhouse, will slip back to the pre- Gary Keegan, pre-Billy Walsh era.
Only essential structural changes will ensure that Ireland’s most successful sport does not lose any more of its budding stars of the future . Any new set-up ‘must’ give the H.P team lead by Walsh complete overall control whilst working with the club coaches on how to ensure that the up and coming young stars are gradually introduced at international tournaments , slotted into the team whenever an opportunity arises and have a long term ‘career plan’ that all parties are committed to.
The HPU moves to the new National Sporting campus later this year by which time one hopes and expects that Irish boxing will have a completely new structure that does not allow interference from ‘the suits’ and gone forever will be their ability to ‘install’ one of their own choosing. This is 2015 not 1950 and the world of AIBA ‘amateur’ boxing has changed, indeed gone forever yet the IABA Executive has men in their 70’s and 80’s in key posts and few young administrators let alone (m)any women.
Ireland’s progress under Walsh has been remarkable, as Economist and Journalist David McWilliams explained earlier this year at a Rabobank business forum:
“Did you know that the Irish boxing team is, per capita, the most successful sports team in the world? Over the past ten years in the Olympics, the World Championships, the European Championships and the EU Championships, this team has won 57 gold medals, 49 silver medals and 96 bronze medals. (Since then of course there have been further successes in Europe and in the 2015 inaugural European Games in Baku).
In the London Olympics this team came 5th in the overall medals table. This team, from a tiny country with a population of four million, won more medals than the Chinese with its population of 1.7 billion or Olympic giant America, with its 300 million plus population.
Under the guidance of head coach Billy Walsh, his “high performance” unit and a tight clutch of dedicated professional coaches, the Irish boxing team has achieved remarkable results.
This feat in the past decade is made all the more remarkable in light of the fact that in 2002 the Sports Council was about to remove all funding from boxing because our performance had been so poor in the previous few Championships.
As McWilliams went on : “Walsh – himself a former boxer who had reached the last eight in the World Championships and knew what it was like to lose – took over and transformed Irish boxing.
So how come in the year before Walsh took up the challenge at the European
Championships all Irish boxers were beaten in the first round and now, ten years later, it’s the most successful per capita boxing team in the world?
This is the story of belief, focus and discipline. It is also about convincing people that they can compete at the highest level. It is a story of how little wins, lead to big wins and how, with the right training, preparation and intensity, the little guy can beat the big guy”.
As Eamonn Sweeney said in the ‘S.Indo’, “Walsh’s treatment beggars belief” a sentiment echoing what Vincent Hogan, Kevin Byrne, Keith Duggan and Jonny Watterson had been saying since the news broke.
So thanks to the IABA and their sub-committee that’s the mess that Messrs. Donohoe and Ring can help resolve through the good offices of the Irish Sports Council/Sport Ireland.
How and why the IABA Exec ‘passed the buck’ to a sub-committee is yet another mystery that even Sherlock Holmes let alone Inspector Clouseau would find it difficult to solve.
Our view? Nil Desperandum! Remember : ‘The Opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings’.