Captain Joe Ward credits Bernard Dunne for keeping him amateur

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At almost the exact same time that David Haye was announcing four new singing to his Hayemaker-Ringstar venture with Richard Schaefer, Joe Ward was bouncing around the Institute of Sport at an open media workout in the best form of his life.

Things could have been a lot different if it were not for the intervention of nw High Performance Director Bernard Dunne.

Ward freely admits that he was being tempted to the pro game, with the aftermath of his third gold medal at last month’s European Championships being the closest he has come to turning over.

The Moate light heavyweight has been courted by promoters since his teens, and would meet with Haye in London earlier this year. However Ward confirmed yesterday that he will be staying in the vest for the next three years bringing him up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Dunne is said to have been a major factor in this decision, guaranteeing Ward funding, providing the ‘veteran’ 23 year old with the team captaincy, and including Ward’s views in the HPU’s plans.

Overall it is fantastic result for Ireland’s medal hopes over the next three years, with Ward having come dangerously close to being lost to pros.

“It was the closest I’ve come to turning pro,” admitted Ward. “I’ve been in negotiations with a lot of promoters.”

“The right decision for me to make was obviously to stay amateur, and try to improve as much as I can from now until Tokyo. ”

The Rio Olympian singles out Dunne as one of the major factors in choosing to remain under the IABA banner.

Ward outlined how “Bernard gave me the opportunity to stay around. He has a vision. We’re going to buy into it. We feel like it’s going to improve us.”

“I think we’re going to be a very, very powerful nation over the next three years. It’s not even about the short distance to the World Championships, it’s about onwards and upwards towards Tokyo, and I feel we’ll be a very, very powerful nation.”

“Since Bernard’s come in, he’s really put his foot down. He wants us to be the number one country in the world, and I can’t see why we can’t be.”

“We have a bundle of talent – men and women. It’s great to be involved in it, and obviously, to lead it.”

On the captaincy itself, Ward beamed that “It’s a great honour for me to be captain. It means a lot to me to be selected amongst some wonderful, great lads on this team, who as I said have a massive amount of ability and talent. We can go on to achieve a lot of stuff.”

“I’m only 23 but I’ve a lot of experience having been here for a lot of years. I’ve been very lucky to get the opportunities since a very young age to go out and perform.”

“Obviously I did it. Now it’s about giving back that experience, giving back what I achieved to the rest of the team. I’ll give them the best advice I can give them, and try to help them, because it’s no joke going to a European Championship or World Championship and trying to get over that line and win a medal.”

“To be selected as captain is special but it gives me more confidence. It shows what Bernard and the coaches think of me, and what they expect from me.”

“Bernard gave me a great chance to stay here, and I saw his vision of what he wanted, what role he wanted me to take, what he wanted implemented in the team. I bought into it.”

However, while leadership, security, and money are all motivating factors – the Olympic Games remains the big end-goal for Ward.

The decorated Irishman was shockingly eliminated in his opening bout at the Rio Games by limited Ecuadorian Carlos Mina, and the chance to atone for this in Tokyo in 2020 is the eventual target of Ward.

From Schoolboy level up, the Westmeath southpaw has four World Championships medals and five European Championships medals, however Olympic glory has eluded him – with the Mina disappointment last year and an injury-stricken quarter final loss at the Youth Olympics to Damien Hooper back in 2010.

To medal at the Games in Japan would be the ultimate, the crowning moment of one of the greatest amateur careers ever. Ward noted that “something I don’t have on my mantelpiece is an Olympic medal, and it’s something that I really want.”

“It’s a long way away, and there’ll be a lot of ups and downs before we get to that, but it’d be something special if I could get that Olympic medal – a dream come true.”

“Then, it’d probably be time to say goodbye to amateur boxing and go pro!”

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]