Saturday 21 October 2017

'I don't think any of our TV stations even bothered broadcasting any seconds of it' - Dunne lambasts coverage of Ireland's 'best athlete'

Joe Ward of Ireland ahead of his semi final bout against Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by AIBA via Sportsfile
Joe Ward of Ireland ahead of his semi final bout against Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by AIBA via Sportsfile
Joe Ward delivered a silver medal for Ireland at the World Boxing Championship in Hamburg. Photo: Barry Cregg/Sportsfile

Sam Wheeler

Bernard Dunne is angry that Joe Ward doesn't get the attention he deserves as "the best athlete in the country" - but he won't ask the triple World medallist to start behaving like Conor McGregor to boost his profile.

While McGregor's debut boxing bout dominated the media - and earned the mixed martial artist millions - Ward's World Championship light-heavyweight decider in Germany got nowhere near the same coverage.

"I don't think any of our home TV stations even bothered broadcasting any seconds of it, never mind minutes," laments Dunne, Irish boxing's high performance director. "We had one TV camera turn up at the airport to see him. And boxing is our number one sport!

"Joe has three European gold medals, three world medals, all by the age of 23. The whole country should know his name, he is that good.

"He's a superb athlete, probably the best athlete we have in the country at the moment. Actually I'm doing him an injustice: he IS the best athlete we have in the country. And he's getting better all the time."

Trash-talking opponents and wearing preposterous suits might make Ward more of a celebrity, but that's not going to happen.

Bernard Dunne at yesterday’s launch of the Family SportsFest, which will be held at Sport Ireland’s National Sports Campus in Abbotstown on October 1 and provide people of all ages with the chance to sample some of the 30 different sports accommodated at the national sports facility Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Bernard Dunne at yesterday’s launch of the Family SportsFest, which will be held at Sport Ireland’s National Sports Campus in Abbotstown on October 1 and provide people of all ages with the chance to sample some of the 30 different sports accommodated at the national sports facility Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

"Joe is quiet. If people were interested in talking to him, he has no problem talking to anybody. But he is not going to act and be something that he's not.

"It's not what Conor and Floyd Mayweather were, which was very, very different to normal boxing - it was…" he pauses, searching for the mot juste. "Extravagant. There was only one winner in that and it was Conor. He did a superb job: regardless of what happened in the ring, the man just talked himself into the biggest fight in history for his first ever professional fight. I don't know anybody else who could do that.

But Joe Ward is the real deal. Sean McComb is the real deal. Kellie Harrington is the real deal. Gráinne Walsh is the real deal. These are real boxers, real people with Olympic ambitions. That's not Conor."

Dunne understands that for amateur fighters to really boost their profile, they have to win gold medals - or any medals at Olympic level.

He believes Ward can start to turn silvers and bronzes into gold - regardless of whether four-time world champion Julio La Cruz, who beat him in Hamburg on Saturday night, moves up a weight division, as has been mooted. Dunne, in fact, hopes the Cuban stays put.

"Joe wants to beat La Cruz, that's the target - beating Cruz and winning the Olympic gold medal," insists the 37-year-old Dubliner.

"Joe is closing that gap all the time. Joe is only 23 and La Cruz is 29. La Cruz is probably at that level where he'll stay the same while Joe is just getting better and better.

"He has demonstrated to me how much he wants it and wants to improve, and for us to be able to secure him for the next three years is a huge coup for Irish sport."

Overall, Dunne is confident that after a relatively lean couple of years following the medal rush of the Billy Walsh era, culminating in a disastrous Rio Games, Irish boxing as a whole will soon be right back at the top of the pile.

Although Ward was the only one of his charges to pick up a medal at the World Championships in Hamburg, Dunne was pleased with the performance of a young team as he looks ahead to the 2020 Olympics and beyond.

"The vision is to be the number one high performance team in the world," he said. "This year and next year is all about building blocks. It's all about 2019, 2020. They all performed very well in Hamburg.

Okay, we only came home with the one medal, but Sean McComb, for example, came up against the best or second best guy in the whole tournament. His Cuban opponent was just incredible. The draw just wasn't kind to him.

"Overall, it's a great platform for us to build on going forward.

"We've got a young team coming through. We've had a big transition from Rio. There has been change since I have come into the programme, with some new faces. It will take a bit of time for it to settle down. I am probably still 12-18 months away from having what I want in place and ready to rock for the start of 2019.

"Before I came in, I did my due diligence and looked at the hand that we had and the structures that were in place and the support staff that was there, and I knew it was a huge opportunity.

"I won't say Irish boxing was a sleeping giant, but it probably wasn't utilising everything that it should have been utilising. I'm hoping to really awaken that and push it in the way it should be getting pushed."

Dunne is particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of Ireland's young female boxers.

"One of my priorities is bringing the female programme right alongside the male programme," says the former WBA super-bantamweight champion.

"They are going to bring the females up to five weight divisions in the Olympics, so there is huge potential for return on investment if you go into that programme."

"We have a female team that's just going to get stronger and stronger. We've just won an EU gold medal, an EU silver medal and an EU bronze medal. We have young female boxers coming through who are as good as anything I've seen - male or female - at underage level.

"We have some pre-elites, male and female, ready to just jump on to the international stage."

Irish Independent

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