Billy Walsh glad to be back in Donegal to present awards

Billy Walsh, the Head Coach of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association’s High Performance, is in Donegal, on Friday night.

Billy Walsh, the Head Coach of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association’s High Performance, is in Donegal, on Friday night.

Walsh, a seven time national champion and Olympic boxer, is the special guest at the annual Donegal Sport’s Stars Awards night, in the Mount Errigal Hotel, in Letterkenny on Friday night.

Walsh as was the man who masterminded Ireland’s impressive medal hauls from the London Olympics.

Friday night’s visit, will be the Wexford man’s second to the North West and Donegal.

Five years ago, ironically in January, too, was his first, when he spent over a week in the county with an elite squad of boxers preparing for the Beijing Olympics.

Walsh arrived in the North West in January 2008, with just one boxer (Paddy Barnes) sure of his seat on the plane to the China for that Summer’s Olympics. Ten days later, with heads cleared, he departed with four more - John Joe Nevin, John Joe Joyce, Kenny Egan and Darren Sutherland - fighters sufficiently honed both mentally and physically that in a matter of weeks they, too, had secured their tickets to Beijing.

“The last time I was up, it was a for a different reason altogether. It was for a training camp in preparation for Beijing 2008,” said Walsh, who is looking forward to his second trip and was earlier this week keeping his fingers crossed that the weather does not intervene.

“We arrived in Donegal with just one boxer (Paddy Barnes) having qualification secured and following the camp a short time later at a tournament in Greece, Paddy was joined by four more of his colleagues.

“We had just been to Chicago and Paddy Barnes was the only one to come home with qualification. So with time running out, we decided we simply had to shake things up and take the boys out of their comfort zone. The general feeling among the High Performance team was that things had gone stale and something drastic was needed to be done, so we came to Donegal.

“And after a couple of 6 am runs in the Barnesmore Gap with Eunan Devenney, and after a few early morning sessions in the Twin Towns Boxing club, the boys were no longer in the comfort zone.

“That camp really shook them up. It was a very successful camp and following it John Joe Nevin, John Joe Joyce, Kenny Egan and Darren Sutherland made the qualification and, as the say, the rest is history. Kenny won a silver medal and Darren and Paddy won bronze medals in Beijing.

“I always put those medals and the Beijing success down to that camp in Donegal, and those early morning sessions in the Barnesmore mountains. It really shook the boys up and got everybody into the right frame of mind. It was hugely influential in changing attitudes and turning the fortunes of that boxing team around.”

Ireland added four more medals in London, with the golden girl of Irish sport Katie Taylor (gold), Paddy Conlon (silver), Johnny Nevin (silver) and Paddy Barnes (bronze) have added to Ireland’s medal collection with boxing once again boxing the standout Irish sport at the Olympics.

“Irish boxing is on a high, and our boxers are doing very well. Ireland has won 28 Olympic medals so far and boxing has won seven of them in the last two Olympics. So I think it is fair to say that our boxers are punching way above their weight when it comes to participation in the sport.

“You have a number of very good boxers in Donegal. Jason Quigley, who I see is up for an award, and William McLaughlin and great work is being done in the clubs in Donegal. People like Eunan Devenney in Twin Towns, and Conor Quigley in Finn Valley and Stephen Friel, in Illies Golden Gloves.

“Jason is one of the upcoming stars of Irish boxing. It has taken him a couple of years to develop and he has lost out in the last couple of senior finals to Darren O’Neill, but there was no shame in that. Darren is a top class and experienced fighter and he, too, lived in the shadow of Kenny Egan for a couple of years before he made the breakthrough and I expect Jason to come through and take on the mantle from Darren in the next few years.”

He also rates William McLaughlin highly, too, and feels that the Illies man will be in the running for an Irish senior title again in 2013.

“William is a top class fighter. He finished in the top eight in the World Championship in Milan in 2009, which was a great achievement and he is a European Union Championship gold medal winner. I expect him to be knocking on the door once again this year at the National Seniors, but he is in a very competitive welterweight division and up against a lot of quality boxers.”

Billy Walsh fought at welterweight and was a national senior champion seven times having dominated the weight in the ten years between 1982 and 1992, appearing in all ten finals in-a-row during the period.

He also boxed at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, having been overlooked for selection for the 1984 games in Los Angeles. And he missed out on the 1992 Games in Barcelona when he lost the National Senior final to Michael Carruth.

“I lost that ‘92 National final by a point to Michael which back then was the qualifier and he went all the way to win the gold medal.”

An all round sportsman growing up in Wexford Town, where he still lives, the young Billy Walsh’s sports were Gaelic football, hurling and soccer as well as boxing and he played both Gaelic and hurling to a high level. He featured for Wexford in both at minor level and was captain of the Wexford minor footballers.

It was after losing a Leinster Minor Hurling Championship final to Kilkenny after leading for most of the game that saw Walsh finally turn his back on hurling and football to concentrate on boxing.

That was a Wexford team that contained Martin Storey, who later went on to captain Wexford to All-Ireland senior hurling glory in 1996, and the first Wexford man in close on 30 years to raise aloft the Liam McCarthy Cup on the steps of the Hogan Stand.

“We were leading that minor final by five points with only seven or eight minutes to play and we ended up losing by a point, typical Kilkenny. But after that game I threw down the hurley in disgust and swore that I would never again be relying on 14 other guys, and decided from then on it was boxing for me. Gaelic Football and hurling were my big loves outside boxing but I had had enough and after that final defeat I decided to concentrate on boxing.”

Billy Walsh, despite his Olympic commitments, followed Donegal’s All-Ireland championship run last summer closely and he is looking forward to meeting Jim McGuinness, the man that masterminded that All-Ireland success.

He is also aware that Donegal is a great sporting county with a proud sporting tradition in a wide variety of sports.

“Donegal is a very sporting county and has produced many great sportspeople down the years and I can see from the nominations that a large number of people from a wide range of sports are being honoured on Friday night. It is something I’m delighted to see because I feel sport is so important and I think it is fantastic that Donegal honours its sports achievers and all those that work behind the scene.”