Autonomy, Education and Divine Intervention: Why Ireland is losing one of its finest boxing coaches

Eddie Bolger tells why he is leaving the IABA and what awaits him in his new position in Germany

David Joyce, Eddie Bolger

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Irish amateur boxing has faced a turbulent 18 months.

Billy Walsh's acrimonious departure from the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) came following a fall-out between the two parties and the organisation had to suffer the loss of one of their most important coaches.

Now, under two years later, IABA says goodbye to another fixture of their coaching staff.

"I was going through the turnstiles up there, back when there was turnstiles up there at nine or 10 years of age," explains Eddie Bolger. "I boxed in there since I was about 11 years old."

Bolger has been part of the IABA since 2008, when he began working with the organisation in a volunteer role. Having spent his time learning from fellow coaches Walsh and Ireland's leading High Performance coach still in the organisation, Zaur Antia, he earned himself a position with the High Performance team.

"There wasn’t much difference from when I was working as a volunteer to becoming employed. Of course you had an income coming into the house, but it was more of a career choice for me. A vocation maybe.

"I had set it out like a four-year plan. The same as you would if you were going to college. This was something that I always wanted to do.

"I was afforded a great education. Dealing with support staff, seeing the science behind it all and in a technical capacity, I don’t think there is anybody in the world better than Zaur Antia.

"Anything I could learn from him I did. I documented everything. I tried to really embrace what he had to offer and that’s what I’ve been doing over the last number of years."

IABA High Performance Squad during the run-up to Rio. John Conlon (left), Zaur Antia (centre) and Eddie Bolger (right). Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Bolger is now ready to go out and stand on his own two feet as he joins the German National Team. The decision, he says, was one that took him by surprise.

"Especially to get the offer from a boxing nation like Germany. It came at a very good time for me. It was a bit of a divine intervention."

This "divine intervention" refers to the fact that his current contract with the IABA ended in February and negotiations for a new contract were not going as planned.

"It was good to have a 'Plan B'."

Bolger will switch his attention to Germany where he says he will be "top of the pyramid" as a new boxing academy is established in Heidelberg. The Wexford native admitted it was a difficult decision to make, especially when it involved moving away from his family.

"You need your family on board because you’re going to be away for long periods. Last year I was out of the country seven months of the year - just with the run-in to Rio.

"Without your family on board and supporting you, it can make your job a lot more difficult."

Hamburg will play host to the World Championships this year and Bolger insists he will need to land on his feet if he is to steer the national team to success.

"I don’t know a lot about the structure but I know a lot about the boxers and I know a lot of the coaches. It’ll be a soft landing for me because I’m going over for the next couple of weeks purely in an observatory capacity.

"They have a diverse culture there. There’s Russians and Armenians on the team. The talent that’s there gives them scope for a lot of improvement over the next couple of months.

"Once we tap into their strengths and their weaknesses, we can put a plan in place."

As for the IABA, Bolger has faith that they will have no trouble coping in his absence. 

"After every Olympics, a few people will turn professional. Maybe in previous years not so much, but we’ve developed a lot of world class athletes.

"The likes of Michael [Conlan], Paddy [Barnes] and Katie [Taylor]. The next step for them was to probably go pro.

"It was very important that we kept Zaur on board. The talent pool is always rich and I think it’s very positive to hire a High Performance Director. It’s not all bad for Ireland.

"We lost a few tight decisions in Rio, but the talent is there."

As for a return to his home country down the line, Ireland's call may be too hard to turn down.

"If I’m being truthful, yeah I’d love to come back in a number of years. I think it’s essential for my development.

"The new position gives me the autonomy to coach everyday. The advantage of working with the IABA over the last couple of years was that I had Zaur to learn from. But, in order to be an elite coach and to develop, I had to take this position and start coaching myself.

"I don’t know if it’s nerves or anxiety, but I’m eager to get started.

"Now I have to step up and deliver."