Harsh exit to push Ward pro

THE challenge for Joe Ward now is how to manage disappointment.

Along with Katie Taylor, the 18-year old from Moate is Ireland's most exciting amateur boxing hope ever.

As Joe travelled to Turkey in a bid to clinch Olympic qualification, the concern of everyone in Irish boxing was that Joe would find himself drawn against a Turkish fighter in the early stages of the tournament. And that's what happened. He met Bahran Muzaffer, the boxer Kenny Egan defeated in Beijing. This time around however, the Irish boxer came out on the wrong side. 18-15 was the score in favour of the Turkish boxer.

Ward gave a good account of himself. Indeed, many neutral observers reckoned he was a clear winner. But through the vagaries of the computerized scoring system Joe was deemed to have lost. Even in amateur boxing, questionable results happen.

Ireland head coach Billy Ward, who has witnessed some surprising decisions in his career, finds it hard to believe. "I'm very disappointed with the scoring," he said last night. "Joe is just 18 years of age. He's one of the best boxers in the world. He's got awesome talent. I'd say they are all happy to see he didn't qualify. "

The Irish Amateur Boxing Association's appeal was turned down. "No rules were broken," the Irish camp was told. "The result stands."

Joe will be disappointed. People have convinced him that's he's good enough to win an Olympic medal.

He knows he's good enough. He's twice beaten Ireland Olympic silver medal winner Kenny Egan to become national champion. The first time was when he was still seventeen and Ireland's reigning Youth champion. He's been World Junior Champion, twice. He recently defeated a senior world champion on his way to becoming European champion.

He's still just 18. In four years time he'll have developed even more skills and ringcraft. But will Joe be content to stay an amateur boxer when the professional promoters come calling, as they undoubtedly will?

Perhaps he will happy to continue in the amateur ranks. He has a partner and a young baby to care for these days. The grants he's gets from the Sports Council give him a decent lifestyle.

But if a week is a long time in politics, four years of arduous boxing training, travelling to overseas tournaments, defeating the same array of inferior contenders, mightn't seem to exciting or challenging for a man of Joe Ward's talent.

There'll be an inquest, of course. It's a time for wise counsel. The question will be how best to nurture Joe Ward's astonishing talent and natural ability.

The night Joe defeated Kenny Egan for the first time, his grandfather, Joe, a burly man with a fearsome grey mustache, known to many as the Bareknuckle King, jumped into the ring at the National Stadium that night and shouted in glee, "You'll never be beat." On the evidence of young Ward's talent, old Joe might well have been right. But no one told the judges in Trabzon.

Katie Taylor will be feeling concerned today.