Losing Nevin tough for Billy Walsh but focus now on World Championships
Head coach regrets top bantamweight’s departure but Kazakhstan mission comes first
Belfast heavyweight Tommy McCarthy will be part of the Ireland team effort at the upcoming World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Billy Walsh rarely gives the impression he’s wounded. But losing the number one boxer in the world just weeks before the World Championships in Kazakhstan must hurt. Teams are judged on medals. John Joe Nevin was considerably more than a prospect.
The saga of Nevin, European champion, Olympic silver medallist, the top-ranked bantamweight in the world, came to a head when the Irish team was selected earlier this week and his name was not there.
After the speculation and rumours, his omission brought a jolt of finality. Walsh, as he had always done, tried to talk Nevin into staying. He had been successful in the past but if the Ireland head coach understands anything about fighters, it is the professional code and its potential riches appears knitted into their genetic material.
A little like the shirt in GAA, football or rugby, the prize boxer is only on borrow, and what a prize Nevin was. As Walsh also said yesterday prior to the Irish team’s departure to Almaty for the World Championship that begin in just over three weeks, there came a point where Nevin’s dalliances with promoters was interfering with the rest of the team.
His commitment waned. That, says the man in charge, had begun to infect the team.
“Look, we had the conversation, myself and John Joe,” says Walsh. “(I said) ‘Go and make your mind up’. I gave him time to go home and I kept him away from the squad because his intermittent training was affecting the lads returning from Belfast , Clonmel, Donegal . . . and John Joe’s not here.
‘A great young man’
“I was probably in a situation that I didn’t want to be in where I was going to drop him. I didn’t want to do that because he is a great young man.
“He said there were offers and he was going, so . . . we had been talking around for a year. The Irish Sports Council put a package together to hold on to him and guarantee him some security for the four years leading up to Rio.
“I suppose the more success we get the more the vultures will be out there waiting to come in. But I don’t see too many rich professional boxers in Ireland at the moment and a lot of them have sad stories to tell, you including my old friend Michael Carruth.”
Michael Conlan said he will turn pro if a good offer arrives, Katie Taylor too and yesterday Paddy Barnes added his voice to the chorous when he said he could also leave amateur boxing behind.
The World Championships represents personal goals and ambitions for the nine-man team but not far from the surface is the knowledge of what opportunity a good run into the second week would bring.
There’s no better place than the podium for a promoter to throw down a cheque.
“These guys were up 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning last week watching Floyd Mayweather, myself included,” says Walsh, “as a young boxer would have had aspirations at some stage to become a world champion and be famous.
€30 million for a fight
“And sometimes it’s not about money. It’s about being famous and being recognised, have 12,000 people turn up at your weigh in . . . to see this guy getting €30 million for a fight.
“They think they can do that because ‘I’m as good as him’, and they believe that.
“They are not in the real world. There’s only one per cent of boxers can do that. Professional boxing will always be there but we’ve managed quite well to hold on to them. We’ve always said if we hold these guys for two Olympiads it would make this team and we’ve done that with John Joe.”
There are nine on the plane, including European and Olympic medallists, plenty of them credible winners . . . Jason Quigley, Joe Ward, Conlan, Barnes
“I set targets at the beginning of the year of two medals,” says Walsh. “ We’ve only ever achieved one medal in succession and that was John Joe.”