THE troubled Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) has lost another high-profile coach.
illy McClean, who was the national youth coach, has parted company with the association. He is the third decorated coach to leave the organisation since 2015, following in the footsteps of Billy Walsh, who departed prior to the Rio Olympics after an acrimonious split. Eddie Bolger left in 2017 to become head coach of German boxing.
Under McClean’s tutelage, Ireland enjoyed unprecedented success at international under-age level, winning ten World Championship medals, and 69 European Championship medals, including 12 gold. His unexpected departure is another blow to Irish boxing and is indicative of a growing crisis, both inside and outside the ring, for the association, which was bankrolled by the Irish taxpayer to the tune of €1.24m last year.
Responding to queries concerning the departure of McClean, Fergal Carruth, chief executive ofthe IABA said: “In relation to your query regarding a former employee, please note that, as with all individual employment contracts, we do not make public comment on these matters. I am sure you will understand this is standard. The IABA are always sorry to lose employees but believe that it is testament to the success of Irish Boxing’s high-performance programme that our coaches and other staff members have been in such high demand, and several have gone onto achieve great success.”
Nevertheless,the IABA’s inability to retain staff has become increasingly problematic in recent years. In addition to the three coaches, it is understood that eight other staff members have left the organisation. Inside the ring, Ireland’s decline as a world power has been as spectacular as it has been disappointing. At the 2015 World Boxing Championships in Doha, which was the last time Walsh acted as Ireland’s head coach, Michael Conlan won a gold medal – a first ever for Ireland at the male event – while the team secured three medals for the first time after Joe Ward picked up a silver and Michael O’Reilly won a bronze. Overall, Ireland finished an unprecedented fourth in the medals table, bettered only by Cuba, Russia and Azerbaijan.
But those heady days are now a distant memory, as the latest ranking list published by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) illustrates. In the ten male weight divisions, the only Irish boxer to rank in the top five is Kurt Walker, who is rated second in the bantamweight division. The rankings are based on results at the 2019 World Championships – where, for the first time since the 2007 event in Chicago, Ireland failed to garner a medal – and the European Games. The Olympic qualifier tournament held last March in London is not included.
Ironically, Walker suffered a shock defeat at the London tournament before it was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He is likely to get a second chance to qualify for the Olympics next year. The only two other Irish male boxers to make the list are no longer active in amateur boxing. Bray’s Regan Buckley – ranked seventh in the light flyweight division – has retired due to a lack of funding, while James McGivern, who is ranked 36th in the light welterweight division, made his professional debut earlier this month.
Brendan Irvine, who did qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in the flyweight division at the controversial London tournament, missed out on being ranked because he was injured last year, and missed the World Championships and the Euro Games. The ranking list has better news for Ireland’s female boxers. Former world champion Kellie Harrington is ranked third in the 60kg division, while Amy Broadhurst is 36th. In the 69kg class, Christina Desmond, who was beaten in the Olympic qualifier in London, is ranked ninth, with Grainne Walsh 16th. Michaela Walsh is 15th in the 57kg class, while European champion Aoife O’Rourke is tenth in the middleweight category.
Outside the ring, a series of bitter disputes has deepened a split within the board of directors of the IABA itself, and between the board and the grass roots of the association. This year’s annual convention (AGM), which was due to be held on October 4, has been postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions but it is likely to be a lively affair when held.