Self-belief puts opponents on the ropes
It also means ensuring that they have the supports they need. The Irish team’s boxers are now well funded by the Sports Council and have the facilities they need at the National Stadium where they can stay and train.
Much like a business, Walsh has found that he and his colleagues have had to adapt to circumstances, often quite difficult ones.
“The thing for us is that we struggled here at the beginning. We did not have the gym we have now or accommodation,” he says. “We decided that we needed to be full-time, but we did not have the money for BBs, so we bought blow-up beds and put them on the floor here and slept on them at night, the team and the coaching staff. It’s got a glass roof, so it’s freezing in winter and roasting in summer.”
At that point, the team had a budget of €225,000. That has increased to €775,000 and the boxers can now stay in hotels when they need to remain overnight in Dublin. They have also been able to develop the centre of excellence at the stadium on South Circular Road.
While things have improved hugely since 2003, Walsh believes more resources, which are still slender by international standards, would help release yet more potential.
Crises were inevitable along the way. In March, with the Olympics in sight, Walsh cut short a second IMI course in executive coaching to join the team at camp at the Curragh in Co Kildare. The boxers were just back from national championships and had “lost some of their sparkle”. He felt what was needed at this stage was his own direct leadership.
To allow him focus, his colleagues set up “Team Walsh”, essentially a mechanism that dealt with anything likely to interfere with his focus on the boxers. He sets a lot of store by his colleagues, including Zaur Anita, from Georgia, who he describes as world class, and Pete Taylor, Katie’s father, who is an integral part of the operation.
One of the worst blows came just weeks before the games themselves. Joe Ward lost his qualifier in a surprise – and controversial – defeat to Turkish boxer Bahram Muzaffer. The Moate man is ranked fourth in the world and is European champion light heavyweight. His status meant he was one of the squad’s big medal hopes.
Walsh realised there was a risk the other Irish boxers were being forgotten about in the fallout. They were going to appeal the decision in any case, so he decided it was time to move on.
“I said, ‘It’s over, it’s finished, we have four others who can qualify here’, we need to focus on them,” he says. Paddy Barnes and Adam Nolan did come through, and the head coach agrees that getting two out of five from that group into the Olympics was ultimately a good result.
The games themselves presented a different management challenge. The venue, the ExCeL Arena, was a “cauldron”. Boxers trying to focus on the immediate challenge presented by their opponent went from their dressing rooms into a fevered atmosphere, accompanied by music and flashing lights on their walk to the ring itself.