Sunday 11 December 2016

Delighted Joe Ward books ticket to Rio Olympics

Sean McGoldrick In Doha

Published 13/10/2015 | 02:30

Ward bound for Rio: Joseph Ward, Ireland, celebrates after beating Elshod Rasulov, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Light Heavyweight 81kg Semi-Final Bout.
Ward bound for Rio: Joseph Ward, Ireland, celebrates after beating Elshod Rasulov, Uzbekistan, in their Men's Light Heavyweight 81kg Semi-Final Bout.
Joe Ward connects with a right on his way to beating Uzbekistan’s Elshod Rasulov in Doha

Only Joe Ward himself truly knows the extent of the inner torment he has endured since his failure to qualify for the London Olympics.

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He might have been only 17 when the lights went out on that dream, but it remained a painful blemish on an other impeccable record.

Would one of Ireland's greatest amateur boxers miss out on the biggest show of all?

Last night in Doha the Moate man exorcised the ghosts of Baku - where he was beaten on a countback at the 2012 World Championship - and later in Trabzon where he was 'robbed' of a place in London at a qualifying event.

The 21-year-old secured his place at the Rio Olympics as well as reaching the World Championship final in the 81kg category for the first time.

At worst he is now assured of a silver medal - he meets the two-time World title holder Julio La Cruz from Cuba in Thursday's decider. But frankly this pales into the shadows compared with the significance of securing Olympic qualification.

Ward's emotional reaction immediately after yesterday's semi-final victory revealed his true feelings.

"It was great to get the win, especially after all the ups and downs I've had during my career. A lot of people wrote me off but I stuck by it.

Joe Ward connects with a right on his way to beating Uzbekistan’s Elshod Rasulov in Doha
Joe Ward connects with a right on his way to beating Uzbekistan’s Elshod Rasulov in Doha

"My coach Eddie Bolger stuck with me, my family at home, my girlfriend and my kids they motivated me to keep going and today I got what I wanted. My dream is to box in the Olympics."

Paying tribute to Seamus Dorrington, his first coach at Moate BC, Ward acknowledged that on occasions during the last four years he wondered whether he would ever achieve his Olympic ambition.

Ward, who won World titles at youth and junior level and is the European title holder, having first won that title in 2012, said: "Of course, you (begin to doubt yourself) when you keep getting pipped at the post or getting bad decisions.

"The pressure starts to build more and more and the people start to doubt you. By Jesus, didn't I make it for me today. It is a dream come true."

He agreed that last night's win was the most important victory of his illustrious career.

"I would give all my medals backs just to go to the Olympic Games. I have been at all the other (tournaments). I now just to medal at the Olympic Games.

Yesterday's opponent, 29-year-old Elshod Rasulov from Uzbekistan, is a former World championship medallist and competed at both the Beijing and London Olympics. But he met a man who was in the zone and in a tactical battle came off second best.

"It was always going to be a game of chess," said Ward. "I had beaten him before and I knew my best would beat his best and that's what showed tonight.

"I am absolutely over the moon. I probably haven't been as emotional after any other of my wins over the years as I am.

The two southpaws eyed each other up in the opening 30 seconds, waiting to see who would make the first move. But once the Irishman man got his back hand moving he repeatedly caught his opponent on the counter.

The fight was stopped in the first round while Rasulov had an eye wound attended to, and crucially Ward nicked the round 10-9 on all three judges' cards.

The initiative was with Ward as his opponent was forced to come forward, which allowed the No 4 seed to punish him, and the fight was stopped again for more attention to Rasulov's eye wound.

Ward raised his hand in celebration at the end of the second round; he obviously sensed that he had the measure of the Uzbek left-hander. The judges agreed, with all three giving him the round, which left him 20-18 ahead and virtually assured of victory.

Ward 'went on his bike' in the third and Rasulov got in enough shots to secure the round but it mattered little in the overall context of the fight as Ward won on a 29-28 score on all three cards.

In the overall context of the Irish team's performances in Doha, this was another historic night.

For the first time ever two Irish boxers will contest finals at World Elite level, which means that at worst the team are assured of two silver and one bronze medal at the 2015 championships.

Ward now joins Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan - who bids for a gold medal on Wednesday - as being Rio-bound with Michael O'Reilly needing a win in a box-off on Thursday a secure a place in the middleweight division.

These are truly heady days for Irish amateur boxing.

Irish Independent

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