Ward targets AIBA gold and Olympic spot
Joe Ward is targeting his third AIBA gold medal -- in three different age and weight categories -- in three seasons as Ireland's 10-strong team hunt Olympic berths when the World Championships begin in Baku on Monday.
The 17-year-old Moate BC southpaw claimed the light-middleweight title at the 2009 World Junior Championships and middleweight gold at the 2010 World Youth Championships.
His European Championships victory took him to No 2 in the world rankings behind Russia's Yegor Mekhonstev, whom he has never faced.
Ward has plenty of experience of Baku -- he's won five gold medals in six tournaments in the Azerbaijan capital in the last two years.
"I won a lot of fights out there, but I'm up with the big boys now and I'll have to prove myself and prove that I'm good enough to be in the Olympics," he said.
"I'm looking at it the same as I look at any other big tournament. It's an Olympic qualifier, but I'll take it one fight at a time."
John Joe Nevin (4th), European champion Ray Moylette (6th), Paddy Barnes (8th), Darren O'Neill (9th) and Ken Egan (13th) are all officially ranked in the top 15.
Irish captain Egan, who has moved up to heavyweight, 2010 European and Commonwealth champion Barnes and Nevin will be aiming for an Olympic qualification double.
A record-breaking 685 boxers from 127 nations have entered the World Championships, which will yield 92 of the 286 places reserved for boxers at the London Olympics.
Irish team -- P Barnes, M Conlon, JJ Nevin, DO Joyce, R Moylette, R Sheehan, D O'Neill, J Ward, K Egan, C Sheehan.