Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ward 'honoured' as he agrees to lead Irish team to Tokyo 2020


Joe Ward. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Joe Ward. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Bernard Dunne has achieved a significant milestone in his new role as high performance director of Irish boxing by persuading triple European gold medallist Joe Ward to turn his back on professional boxing until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 23-year-old southpaw has been appointed the new captain of the Irish team, which received a further boost with confirmation that Clonmel super-heavyweight Dean Gardiner - who was at the centre of a selection controversy prior to the European Championships - has earned a late call-up to the World Championships in Hamburg next month.

Ward's decision to spurn lucrative offers to turn professional is the best possible news for the IABA, which has been beset by an internal power struggle in recent months.

Dunne, who took over as the head of the IABA's high performance unit just as the unrest was kicking off at the end of April, played a key role in persuading Ward to stay amateur.

"I'm staying around," said Ward. "We sat down, Bernard and myself and also my family and I saw the vision he wants for this team and what I can bring to the team and I felt it would be the right decision for me to stay around until Tokyo.

"Now I'm focused on the World Championships which is only six weeks away. I got selected as Ireland captain to lead this team into Tokyo.

"It's a great honour for me and I think it will be great for me to stay around and show this team the way," said Ward, who has won silver and bronze medals at previous World Championships.

Ward had sought assurances from Sport Ireland that he would be fully funded up until the Tokyo Games. While details of the package he has secured remain under wraps, his decision is a big boost to Dunne.

Since taking over as high performance director, Dunne has presided over the team's performance at last month's European Championships, where they secured a gold and two bronze medals and finished fourth overall.

While most of the kudos for those performances goes to head coach Zaur Antia and the boxers themselves, Dunne was the de facto team manager in Kharkiv.

This was the first time since the establishment of the high performance unit in 2003 that the director of the programme, rather than an official of the IABA, was the team manager for an international elite tournament.

Speaking at a media day in the high performance unit's new training centre in Abbotstown, Dunne said he expected to be team manager at the forthcoming World Championships and at other elite championships up to and including the Tokyo Olympics.

Meanwhile, Dunne was the bearer of good news to Clonmel super-heavyweight Gardiner late last week.

"I was sitting at home when he rang. He asked me was I sitting down and then he asked me how I would feel about going to the World Championships," recalled Gardiner, who had to beat Martin Keenan in a box-off - after a dispute between the high performance unit and the IABA's central council over team selection - to copper-fasten his place at the European Championships.

In the event, Gardiner reached the last 16 before being stopped by the eventual gold medallist Viktor Vykhryst from Ukraine. This left the Irishman ninth overall and first reserve for the World tests.

England's Frazer Clarke, who won silver in Ukraine, has been forced to withdraw from the World Championships due to a hamstring injury, which means that Gardiner will now box in Hamburg.

Irish Independent

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