Interim head coach Zaur Antia will remain the leader of the Irish boxing team until beyond the 2016 Olympics after replacing Billy Walsh last year. Antia has been backed by CEO of Sport Ireland, John Treacy after leading the sport through a tough few months after Walsh’s controversial departure.
The head of Sport Ireland made the announcement as he opened the newly-constructed €4m Irish Institute of Sport Training Centre at the start of the year. The decision will come as a relief to Sport Ireland and a number of Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls like Katie Taylor who have worked closely with Antia.
Even though she is yet to qualify for the Olympics, she will surely be one of the favourites to pick up gold with the bookmakers after her victory in London 2012. Although Walsh may have left for America after they offered him a large pay rise amongst other reasons, bookmakers Coral will prove some things really are for free by offering free bets on the boxing throughout the Olympics in Rio. If you’ve never bet on boxing before, then the Olympics would be a great time to open an account as Coral will give you €20 in free bets when you deposit €5.
Sport Ireland, the Olympic hopefuls and even those placing a free bet on the Ireland team to do well may be thrilled with the news Antia is staying, but there will be one group of people that will be even happier. The biggest relief will be from the IABA, who has been worried that more of their staff would head for the door like Walsh did. Although Antia has said he has had a number of offers from other countries to front their boxing teams, it seems Anita is focused on finishing the job that he and Walsh have worked on – preparing a team for Rio 2016.
Anita had big shoes to fill once he took charge of the team. Just days before his resignation, Walsh was still leading Ireland to a lot of successful victories. In October, Michael Conlan claimed gold in the World Boxing Championship. The evening was tinged with disappointment as Michael O’Reilly, who was already being coached by Antia at that time, lost his fight after a shock judge’s decision.
Although Zaur Antia is widely recognised as one of the best amateur boxing coaches in the world, the IABA still looks likely to consider other candidates to replace him in the main role. But a successful medal haul at the Rio Olympics this year could mean that it won’t just be those placing free bets that profit from the sport. Although they said they couldn’t come close to what Walsh was offered for his new role in America, they will surely be forced to do everything they can to keep Anita if the team does well. Even if that does means finding some money for the sport from somewhere.