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'It's not easy when guys are throwing money at you but it's not the right time to go'

Joe Ward turned down offers to become pro as he wants to lead this new era of Irish boxing.

Ward is preparing for next month's European Championships.
Ward is preparing for next month's European Championships.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT WOULD HAVE been easy for Joe Ward to jump ship after Rio.

He saw team-mates Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor join the professional ranks in the aftermath of last summer’s Olympics and he too had offers on the table to follow that path.

But despite the lure of the pro game and the obvious financial incentive, it wasn’t the right time for the 23-year-old to make that career move. He still has unfinished business as an amateur.

Despite his relative age, Ward sees himself as a leader and as the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) looks to move on from the disaster of Rio and enter a new era, the Westmeath light heavyweight feels he can be at the forefront of that renewal.

“It’s a sport that I love being involved in,” he says.

“I’ve been successful and very lucky to a certain extent. I don’t think it’s the right time to go when you’re down and out. It’s time for someone to stay around and take responsibility to drive the new team to success.

“I feel like I was the person to do that. I’m young enough to stay around for another
few years and I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt. Now I’m in a good position to bring these lads on and be the leader of the team.

“Now I know what I need to do and how much effort I have to put into everything I do. There are guys behind me who look up to me and try to learn from me. When you’ve had success, you have to take responsibility with you.”

Joe Ward dejected after his fight Ward in action in Rio last summer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ward, a two-time European champion and World Championship silver medallist, does, however, admit turning down ‘huge amounts of money’ was difficult.

“It’s not an easy thing to do when guys are throwing huge amounts of money at you,” continues.

“I felt like it wasn’t the right opportunity for me at the time. I want to be a leader. It doesn’t mean I’ll still be around for Tokyo – I don’t really know myself – but I’m focused on the European Championships now. That’s my main aim and after that we’ll see where we go from there.

“I’m here to be a leader and show the guys what it takes to be successful.”

Last month’s appointment of Bernard Dunne as the IABA’s new high performance director is certainly seen as a huge step forward for this young team but the feeling is that it will take time to emerge from the shadow of Rio.

“It’s about transitioning now,” Ward continues, ahead of this summer’s European Championships.

“We’ve got some new boxers and some new coaches. It’s a new system. Rio was a very disappointing Olympic Games for all of us, but overall in the last couple of years we’ve been successful.

“One tournament isn’t going to make us a really bad team. Things didn’t work out for us.
Some of us didn’t perform. Others suffered from things that were out of their control.

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Bernard Dunne with Darren O'Neill, Christina Desmond, Brendan Irvine and Joe Ward Darren O'Neill, Christina Desmond, Bernard Dunne, Brendan Irvine and Ward. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We can become a successful team again, but it’s going to take time. We will be at the
top again.

“There’s no negativity in our camp – it’s all positive. Everyone is here to learn and improve. We all want to be successful.

“We’re not going to any championships just wanting to compete. We want to win medals.
That’s what we’re known for over the last number of years.

“For the older guys, there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to go there and be European champions. We want to show that Irish boxing is on the rise again.”

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Ryan Bailey

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