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Big read: Walsh has endured a tough road to America

By Vincent Hogan

It was February last when Billy Walsh first walked into Fergal Carruth's office to inform him of the offer from America.

He was pleased to find IABA chairman Joe Christle sitting with the CEO. He joked: "Great, I can kill two birds with the one stone here!"

USA Boxing wanted the Wexford man to oversee their women's programme and had put together a lucrative package designed to persuade him to relocate to Colorado.

Walsh told Carruth and Christle that he understood the Association would never be in a position to match the financial aspects of the American offer, but he also said that he did not want to leave. Their response gave him an early sense of foreboding.

It was suggested that, when the time came, they should issue a joint, amicable press release, announcing his exit.

No exploration of what it might take to keep him in Ireland then. No expressions of concern that a man who has been so central to one of Europe's great sporting revolutions might be lost to Irish boxing.

He subsequently produced a five-point proposal of what it would take to see off the American interest. The financial aspect to it was unremarkable. Although he had been in charge of the High Performance Programme since 2008, he still retained the title (and salary) of a Head Coach.

Walsh's request was simply a salary that would be closer to that of high performance directors in other sports.

Walsh sought assurances too about the movement of staff, having seen his administrative secretary relocated without prior notice. And he reiterated a long-held desire to, as the head of High Performance, have a right to pick teams for competition without having to submit them to committee for approval.

Every issue was rejected.

Those who attended negotiations on Walsh's behalf during the past six months were left bemused by yesterday's IABA statement and, specifically, the reference to Walsh as "our friend" and "a valued and esteemed colleague".

More proposals and meetings followed and, it seemed, the brokering of an agreement.

The deal, was that Walsh retained his permanent position with the IABA on a new salary of €97,000 per annum.

But the Irish Sports Council soon received an email from Carruth, seeking a dramatic redrafting of what had been agreed. The deal was dead in the water.

Yesterday, Christle said that, although he had presented a "draft proposal" to the Association's Board of Directors on August 25, he refrained from putting it to a formal vote as his opinion was that the "vote would be negative".

Yet more meetings followed. A final deal seemed to have had been agreed with Walsh in September. It had, but only subject to the presentation "of a fair contract".

No paperwork was put before Walsh or his representatives that day.

Walsh's people were in agreement with the financial side. But they remained suspicious of the terms of employment that would ultimately be attached.

Despite their awareness of the pressure that Walsh was under from America, it took three days for the IABA to finally deliver their contract to his solicitor. And it proved unacceptable.

The contract had glaring issues on the autonomy of his job description and the most basic issues of authority.

Walsh's representatives considered it a virtual denigration of Ireland's most successful Olympic coach.

Earlier this month, Walsh was fully immersed with his boxers in Doha, a remarkable seven having qualified for the World Championships. And Ireland won their first ever World gold through Belfast's Michael Conlan with Joe Ward taking silver and Michael O'Reilly bronze. Watching, Walsh knew that he was managing them for the last time.

He'd given the commitment of a definite decision after the Worlds and had long since come to the conclusion from negotiations that the IABA did not want him. The Association's statement yesterday seemed to imply that the financial aspect consumed most of the negotiation.

But the deal fell dell down on matters of autonomy. The one area that was in the IABA'S control.

Walsh pointedly reminded people in a radio interview this week that he himself was "of the IABA", not some kind of hostile outsider looking to undermine their work.

He first boxed under their rules as a seven-year-old and has since spent 45 years devoted to a sport he loves.

The evidence of Ireland's medal haul this year at those European Games, European and World Championships suggests that he leaves behind a Programme working extraordinarily well.

The review he demanded two years ago was on the basis of standards slipping. He told me this week: "We'd just had our best year ever. Four Irish boxers reached finals at the Euros, two claiming gold. Five got into the top eight at the Worlds, two of them winning medals.

"But I'd seen a slippage. It wasn't complacency. I would never get complacent because you're always only one punch from defeat. Maybe you're like a parent spoiling a child.

"And I suppose we had begun to accept some behaviours that weren't world class, that didn't belong in High Performance. Just the culture around the place I could sense begin to change. So, after our most successful year, we called for a review.

"We didn't know what we were looking for. We didn't know how to win medals. Now it's almost automatic.

"There's a momentum. There are warriors there and they will carry themselves through. There's a belief in the team. It may affect some of them more than others that I am out of the team but, in general, they will rally.

"There's only one thing missing (for High Performance) now. And that's an Olympic gold medal. We have the team to get that. I hope to see it happen but, unfortunately, I'll be sitting there with a different country now."

Belfast Telegraph


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