Captain Ward hopes to break new ground in semi-final bout
Bonds in boxing last a lifetime and though they no longer work together, Joe Ward and his former coach Eddie Bolger went for a walk along the banks of the river Elbe in Hamburg yesterday.
Twenty-four hours ahead of Ward's third appearance in a World Championship semi-final, the pair remembered times past. While working with Bolger, Ward won four championship medals at elite level: two European gold medals and a bronze and silver at the World Championships, as well as World junior and youth titles.
Bolger left Irish boxing earlier this year to take up the position of head coach with German boxing. Since then Ward added another European title and is assured of a bronze medal at least in Hamburg.
Inevitably, at times, the relationship between the pair hits bumpy patches. "You had to set down the rules. I can be contrary by nature and if I get something into my head he knows I could be stubborn about it," said Bolger.
response "I often had words with Joe and told him this is the way we have to do things. There would be no response, but he would come back later and you would think that he was after thinking of it himself."
When the latter departed to Germany, there was speculation that Ward would make a long-anticipated move to the pro ranks.
The first task of the new head of the IABA's High Performance programme Bernard Dunne was to persuade the country's most successful amateur to commit to Ireland until the Tokyo Olympics.
Appointing him to the largely ceremonial role of team captain has sharpened his focus as well. Moments after winning the bronze medal, Ward made a point of praising his team-mates' efforts in Hamburg. "They all gave it 100 per cent; what more can you ask for?"
Regardless of what he else achieves, the fact that Dunne - with the assistance of Sport Ireland - put a deal together to keep Ward on board was a singular achievement.
Ward has experienced contrasting fortunes in World semi-finals. In 2013 he lost to his Cuban nemesis Julio Cesar de la Cruz. Two years later he beat Elshod Rasulov from Uzbekistan and lost to De la Cruz in the final.
Tonight, he faces Uzbek star Bektemir Melikuziev, who has won silver at World (2015) and Olympic (2016) level at middleweight. But he struggled in the semi-final, winning on a split 3-2 decision.
"It's all about performance, the silver and bronze (medals) are just experiences. I have to go and perform again," said Ward, who if he does perform to his limits, can become the Irish boxer to reach two World Championship finals.