Loss of Billy Walsh has led to implosion of Irish boxing

Katie Taylor’s defeat is the final straw for a sport that’s in crisis

Katie Taylor is speechless after her loss to Finland’s Mira Potkonen in the opening bout of the women’s lightweight competition in Rio. Video: RTE


The defeat of Katie Taylor in her first fight in Rio brings boxing in a full circle. A week beginning with scandal has ended in disappointment as Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward failed to live up to expectations, Michael O’Reilly was sent home and is probably going to be banned from boxing, and now the number one lightweight in the world and defending Olympic champion is out of the tournament. Irish Boxing has imploded.

In a timely piece on Sunday in Sports Illustrated, the headline read: “Under Billy Walsh’s guidance, USA boxing experiencing a tremendous turnaround.”

At that stage the Americans had won 10 and lost three fights. In the text of the piece the writer quotes Michael Martino, executive director of USA Boxing. “We did an international search,” he says, “and Billy Walsh was highly recommended.”

In an Oireachtas hearing last October, John Treacy, chief executive of Sport Ireland said: “I would say our confidence [IN IABA]is shaken.” Treacy added: “We were told there were 20 coaches who could do the job of Billy Walsh.”

In a sense boxing was bulletproof. The boxers kept collecting the medals at European and World Championships. The cracks were papered over and life moved on until now.

In the four years since London, Irish boxing has changed and has done so in a chaotic manner. At London 2012 both Katie’s father Pete Taylor and Walsh were in the corner for her gold medal win over Sofya Ochigava.

Pete was also in her corner in Jeju, South Korea in 2014, where she won her sixth successive World Championship. Prior to that Gary Keegan was also in the sport, setting up the elite systems.

All of that sporting intelligence has gone from boxing and in Walsh’s case his experience is now working against Ireland. No one has replaced him. Instead coaches, all respected, have filled in around.

But since Pete’s departure before Christmas, Katie’s form has not so much dipped as taken a nosedive.

Beaten three times

In a Rio qualification event earlier this year she was beaten by Yana Alekseevna and later, at the World Championships in Astana, she was beaten for a second time by Estelle Mossely. Mira Potkonen’s win at the Riocentro Arena was the third in a matter of months.

Southpaw Alekseevna’s win was a surprise, Mossely’s a shock and Potkonen’s worrying. The Finn has been to Ireland a number of times to fight in Katie’s shows around Bray. She has never been close to beating her.

“I thought I did do enough to win but I should be winning those fights a bit more convincingly,” she said after the fight.

It was the same in Astana against the French lightweight.

Katie fought a tight fight. Her camp believed she had done enough to win it but the judges went for Mossely.

In the past her performances have been so uptempo that they have never been left to the subjectivity of judges but have, like all of her previous fights against Potkonen, been convincing and one-sided.

Challenging year

Prior to the first defeat this year Katie had not been beaten in World or European level since her first European Championship win in Tonsberg in 2005.

“I feel like it’s obviously been a very, very challenging year,” said Katie yesterday, maybe understating it.

She is now 30 years old – age isn’t the issue. But the changes in the people around her are certain to have had an influence. Pete didn’t just coach Katie in tactics and training but ran her boxing life.

He was detailed, protective and people in boxing would say difficult to work with. But his system worked for Katie and gave her certainty and direction in her boxing and her career in general.

While the Irish coaches have railed against the quality of judging, that doesn’t explain the three defeats in as many months for Katie nor Ward’s decision to fight rather than box nor Barnes’s evident lack of energy at 49kg.

Less transparent

The 10-point must scoring system is less transparent from the round-by-round points, but looking at that as a factor in terms of this year’s results isn’t credible. Katie has become less effective and her opponents have improved.

Her issue is a specific one, that of boxing a general one. The IABA have not replaced Walsh, or replaced the job he did, which was as much a manager of people who communicated well.

He was an overseer and while the boxers are happy with the coaches they have, that is not the issue. The IABA has not trawled the world as the Americans did.

Now Katie Taylor, Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward will go home and consider their futures in a changing landscape.

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