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Classy Ward cruises to third European gold


Joe Ward of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Ward of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Ward of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Ward has been crowned European light heavyweight champion for the third time. He outclassed Russian opponent Muslim Gadzhimagomedov in yesterday's final to secure a unanimous 5-0 verdict from the five judges in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Three of them gave the 23-year-old Moate southpaw all three rounds while two of them awarded one round - probably the final one - to the Russian, a late replacement for a more highly-rated opponent, who was banned from entering the host country by the Ukrainian government for visiting Crimea, which the Ukraine claims Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

"It's special to win one European title but to win three is very special," said Ward. "I have a huge amount to improve on but it shows the level I'm at.

"I've been boxing really well and I was always in control. He was a big lad, gutsy and game.

"Zaur (Antia) and Jimmy (Payne) came up with a good plan for me to counter-punch him and break his attack, and it worked really well."

This was an important success for Ward and the embattled Irish Athletic Boxing Association, which has been embroiled in a damaging internal power struggle in recent months.

After a disastrous Olympics in which he crashed out in the first round, when he had two points deducted for holding, this was Ward's opportunity to redeem his reputation and prove that he is one of the top amateur boxers in the world.

He won his first European title at elite level when he was just 17 in 2011. Two years later, Ward was singularly unlucky not to retain his title: he was on his way to a routine win in a last-16 contest when he dislocated his kneecap in a freak accident 16 seconds from the end of the fight which ended his involvement in the championships.

However, at the last European Championship in Bulgaria, two years ago, Ward comfortably regained his light heavyweight title and has now secured his third gold medal in the division.

He is the first Irish male boxer to win three European Elite titles, though has some distance to go before equalling Katie Taylor's haul of six.

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Ward, who has looked at ease throughout these championships, had too much too class for all his opponents.

The Russian tried hard to engage him in the final - particularly in the third round, but by then Ward correctly sensed that he had done enough to win and was content to keep Gadzhimagomedov at distance.

There was renewed speculation that Ward was ready to sign a lucrative professional contract prior to the championships but he will surely postpone that decision until at least after the World Championships, which are scheduled for Hamburg in August.

Ireland was replaced by England as the leading western European country at the championships, but given the background to the event outside the ring, it certainly was a satisfactory debut for the new high performance director Bernard Dunne.

Apart from Ward's third gold medal, Brendan Irvine (flyweight) and Kurt Walker (bantamweight) won bronze medals.

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