Saturday 24 February 2018

'I'll get him in the next few years' - Ward vows to strike gold

Joe Ward with his sons, six-year-old Joe (left) and Jerry (three) with his silver medal at Dublin Airport. Photo by Barry Cregg/Sportsfile
Joe Ward with his sons, six-year-old Joe (left) and Jerry (three) with his silver medal at Dublin Airport. Photo by Barry Cregg/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

A palpable sense of disappointment was evident among the Irish boxing party on the 35-minute bus journey back from Hamburg's Sporthalle to the Hyperion Hotel at the conclusion of the 2017 World Boxing Championships late on Saturday night.

Half an hour earlier, Joe Ward became the first Irish boxer to secure two World silver medals.

His collection of three World medals - he has a bronze from 2013 - represents almost a quarter (3 out of 13) of the medals Ireland has won at the competition since its inception in 1974.

Still, finishing second best - even to the best in the world - fell below expectations. Ward was on a mission to finally beat the only light heavyweight who has consistently beaten him since the Moate man broke into the elite circle at the age of 17.

It also happens that Cuban Julio La Cruz is arguably the best amateur boxer of his generation.

Ward was cursing his luck afterwards that his career coincided with La Cruz's, who has won four World titles on the spin and with seemingly ridiculous ease.

"Without the Cuban I would be a three-time World champion and that's the reality.

"There is just that one guy who has the edge over me now," said Ward, who is five years younger than the Cuban.

Even though he went down to another unanimous 5-0 loss, this was Ward's best performance against La Cruz, who also beat him at the World Championships in 2013 and 2015.

On three of the judges' cards, Ward won one of the three rounds. At face value this might not appear significant but La Cruz simply doesn't lose rounds at this level.

"I will get better as I get older and hopefully he will slow down. I am telling you that within the next couple of years, I will get him," promised Ward.

Bernard Dunne, who was attending his first World Championships in his capacity as head of the Irish high performance programme, summed up Ward's achievement.

Disappointed

"He's come here and won a World Championships silver medal and he's disappointed. La Cruz is a phenomenal athlete.

"Joe is getting closer and closer all of the time. In three years' time, in 2020, Joe is going to be a fully-grown man."

At face value it was a disappointing championship for the Irish who slipped in the medals table from a record fourth in 2015 - when they won three medals - to joint ninth. But overall it was a pretty dismal championships for European boxers.

France was the only country in western Europe to secure a gold medal while Russia failed to win a gold for the first time since 1999.

While Billy Walsh's United States squad also failed to land a title, securing three medals (one silver and two bronze), it was a significant breakthrough. His achievement was recognised by AIBA who named the Wexford man the Coach of the Tournament.

For Dunne, the championships were a learning curve for him and the team.

"We've got a new, young team. Joe is our leader and he is 23, which shows where we are at," he said.

"We are most certainly progressing. We are coming home with a silver medal, we were one of four European nations to have a boxer in the final of the World Championship which is a great achievement," he said.

Meanwhile, the ongoing tensions between the Irish Amateur Boxing Association's Board of Directors and the association's Central Council is set to escalate again.

The Board of Directors have cancelled a planned EGM of the association scheduled for September 10 on procedural grounds, a decision which has not gone down well with the Central Council.

The adoption of a new rulebook is at the centre of the latest row.

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