Tuesday 24 October 2017

Ward slams door shut on Egan's Olympic bid

At the national stadium

Joe Ward ended the Olympic debate with the finality of a man slapping down the lid of a casket.

He took the London dreams of Beijing silver-medallist Ken Egan and battered them to putty on an electric night in the National Stadium. Egan knew he needed the battle to be a cold, scientific exchange of ring-craft. But it was never that.

Ward's punches came packed with gunpowder and crashed down on the 10-time champion with the brutality of a wrecking-ball. Trailing 9-5 after round one, Egan took a standing count in round two. It was high technique against heavy leather. And the leather won.

"I'm going to put a couple of grand on him to win a medal," said Egan of Ward's Olympic chances in London, assuming he safely navigates the last qualifying tournament in Turkey in April.

No man in the 101-year history of these Championships has ever claimed 11 titles and Egan never looked like separating himself from that statistic.

He trailed 17-8 after that second round and, thereafter, just about avoided the worst of the hard-hitting Moate teenager's punches. It was 29-10 at the finish, Ward the undisputed king of Ireland's light-heavyweights.

"I trained very hard for this," said Ward. "You don't expect anyone to do you any favours when you get in the ring here and I knew I was up against a great fighter. I just wanted to make him miss and counter with my own shots. That was the plan and it worked."

contest

It had been a contest prefaced by the kind of fanfare that brought Caldwell and Gilroy to the ring in another lifetime -- maybe the biggest amateur fight Ireland has seen in 20 years. The body-language of both men offered a study of practiced nonchalance during the pre-tournament presentation of boxers.

Egan stood smiling, chewing gum and rubbing his hands like a gambler peering in at an epic pot. Ward leaned back on the ropes as if sleep might be moments away. Both men snatched fleeting glances at one another whilst avoiding eye contact. You could tell neither was entirely comfortable.

The feeling with Ward would be that, if he ever carried the kind of condition Egan carried into last night's contest, there is not a man on the planet with the equipment to beat him.

But Ward has done so much so quickly -- World Junior, World Youth and European Senior champion -- all by the age of 18, he has maybe yet to encounter life's hard lessons.

He did get a hint in Baku, beaten on count-back against an Iranian brawler he admitted afterwards he would have expected to beat "at even 50pc".

Egan, of course, has written his own book on hard knocks, one that chronicles a fall into chaos after Beijing and what has been a heroic recovery. "I'm not retiring yet anyway," he vowed.

"I just want to thank everyone who supported me these last few weeks, but I couldn't handle his strength. Joe was catching me with the cleaner shots and there wasn't much that I could do. I have no complaints. I'm back in training camp in the Curragh next week."

Ward, ranked three in the world, certainly looked a potential Olympic medallist on this form. He hits harder than just about any teenager alive and, if in the right condition, should be smart enough to qualify for London at that qualifying tournament in Trabzon next April.

For Egan, there can be no regrets and certainly no shame. Ireland's most consistent international boxer bowed out with dignity intact.

And he didn't exactly sound like a man headed for his dotage.

Irish Independent

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