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Michael Conlan so sorry to see Billy Walsh exit IABA

By David Kelly

World champion Michael Conlan has hailed the influence of outgoing Irish head coach Billy Walsh following his surprise exit from the high performance unit.

Walsh, who has been at the forefront of a decade of unrelenting success for Irish amateur boxing, dropped his bombshell resignation yesterday and is now looking ahead to a new career Stateside working with the American women's team.

While Conlan has been guided throughout his career by dad John - the Ulster high performance coach - he was quick to praise Walsh who was in his corner last week when the 23-year-old Belfast man made history by becoming the first Irish man to strike gold at the World championships, in Doha.

"It's very disappointing that Billy is leaving because he has helped me a lot, he's been something of a mentor and has been a great ambassador for Irish boxing," said Conlan.

"When I won my first Irish title and got into the Irish high performance unit, Billy was right behind me from the start. He could see my ability and he really backed me to do well. He has been great with all the lads and for me personally he became a very good friend."

Despite being disappointed by Walsh's departure, Conlan insists that the conveyor belt of medals from major championships will not dry up over the coming years.

"Of course it's tough losing Billy but Irish boxing now has a very good group of coaches, a strong unit - you've got Eddie Bolger and Zaur Antia who's a great technical coach so I expect Irish boxers to still bring home medals from the likes of the World championships, the Europeans and Olympics," added Conlan.

As for Walsh, he made it clear that he felt frustrated by the inability to agree a new deal with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.

"Regrettably the IABA has not made it possible for me to continue on in the role as head coach of the high performance unit and senior team.

"It's time for me to move on, I have a deadline as well with people from America who offered me a position as head coach.

"It was a take-it-or-leave it and I pushed the decision back eight months for everything to be resolved, but unfortunately that didn't happen. It was about respect around your role and position, to lead your team through to Rio.

"Mentally, it's been very, very stressful over the last eight months. It has taken its toll in some ways. I spent a lot of time crying this morning around this decision, but I think for the best of my health, for my future, it's the best way for me to move on.

"I went back time after time to try and make this work. For my own dignity and respect I felt I couldn't stoop any lower.

"The last 13 or 14 years have been the greatest years of my life, working at my own sport. I started in the game when I was seven years of age and I've done everything right through, been the champion from 14 years of age up.

"I fought in an Olympic Games myself, captained the team and then to manage the team and to lead the team through the last few Olympic Games has been a phenomenal dream come true for me.

"Anyone who knows me knows I'm Irish to the core and unfortunately this has driven me to somewhere else."

In a statement Walsh also said: "I wish to express my gratitude to the Irish Sports Council for all their support and commitment to the IABA high performance programme over the course of the last 14 years and most recently in trying to broker an agreement on this matter. The Sports Council have supported Irish boxing and worked tirelessly to find a solution."

Belfast Telegraph


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