Monday 26 February 2018

Joe Ward 'under pressure' to enter the pro ranks

Joe Ward claimed his third European gold medal with a unanimous victory on Saturday. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Joe Ward claimed his third European gold medal with a unanimous victory on Saturday. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Bernard O'Neill

Joe Ward has already been installed as a favourite to win a gold medal at the World Championships in Germany, but whether he wears the Irish light-heavy vest in Hamburg in August remains to be seen.

Ward claimed his third European gold medal by beating Russia's Muslim Gadzhimagomedov on a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28) at the Lokomotiv Sports Palace in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday.

That prompted fresh speculation about his future, with the Westmeath southpaw still very much a target of pro promoters.

Ward currently receives funding of €40,000 a year from Sport Ireland and while the 23-year-old is not looking for a king's ransom to remain in the amateur ranks, he does want financial security. It's understood he's looking for a new contract that would take him up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"The way I look at it now is that I have to go home and make the right decision. I'm going to have to do what's best for myself and best from my family. At the end of the day I need security," said the Rio Olympian.

Irish boxing has won 14 European Elite gold medals since 2005 - courtesy of Katie Taylor, who has claimed six, Paddy Barnes, John Joe Nevin, Jason Quigley, Ray Moylette, Michael Conlan and Ward's hat-trick.

Taylor, Barnes, Moylette, Quigley, Nevin and Conlan have all turned pro, leaving Ward as Ireland's only European champion to remain in the amateur code and he's consistently helping Irish boxing hit their key performance targets.

"We have to sit down first and come up with a plan. There's a lot of people putting a lot of pressure on me to turn professional. I have to sit down with the Irish Sports Council (Sport Ireland) and Bernard (Dunne, IABA High-Performance Director) and see where we go," he said.

Ireland finished fourth in the European medals table courtesy of Ward's gold and the bronze medals won by Brendan Irvine and Kurt Walker.

Qualified

That trio and Sean McComb have now all qualified for the World Championships.

The Ukraine tournament was the first major outing for Dunne in his new role and the former WBA World Champion was obviously proud of Team Ireland's efforts.

"I came out here to assess the health of our team and how it compared against international competition. From that point of view the objective was achieved and to actually have some success to go along with that was fantastic," he said.

"It was a great start for myself and Zaur (Antia, Ireland's head coach) and to watch Zaur and his team go to work was fantastic.

"It's a young team. It needs time to settle in and we will hopefully achieve more success in the future.

"The World Championships will follow quickly after this, but first the guys will go home and have a break, a well-deserved break."

Meanwhile, unbeaten Mayo lightweight Ray Moylette, who won European gold with Ward in 2011, notched his fifth pro win with a points decision over Nigeria's Innocent Anyanwu at the National Stadium.

Paddy McDonagh beat Steve Collins Jnr and Luke Keeler beat Darren Cruise for the vacant Irish light-heavy and middle titles on the Red Corner card at the home of Irish boxing.

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