Bernard Dunne has hit out at the lack of coverage afforded to Joe Ward after the 23-year old captured his sixth major championship medal last week.
The Athlone southpaw bagged a silver after losing out to the legendary Cuban light-heavyweight Julio La Cruz in the World Championship final in Hamburg last Saturday but the man’s achievements continue to fly below the radar of most sports fans in this country.
Dunne, high performance director with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) and team leader at the worlds, pointed to the absence of fight footage on our screens and to the fact just one camera crew welcomed his man home at Dublin Airport.
Irish amateur boxing is still only a year out from the disastrous Olympic Games in Brazil when the team failed to win a medal in the ring.
Dunne batted away suggestions that the embers from those fires were still obscuring people’s opinions of the sport, pointing instead to the humble and quiet nature of Ward himself who doesn’t “make a song and a dance” about himself.
“He’s a superb athlete, probably the best athlete we have in the country at the moment,” said Dunne yesterday.
“Actually, I’m doing him an injustice: He is the best athlete we have in the country at the moment. He’s the most consistent.
“There’s only one guy above him in the weight division and Joe is closing that gap all the time and his goal over the next three years is to really close that up. Cruz is getting older and so is Joe, but Joe is only 23 and Cruz is 28.”
One of Dunne’s first acts as high performance director was to secure Ward to a three-year contract, keeping him within the amateur ranks and away from the gaggle of professional agents and coaches eager to work with such a rare talent.
La Cruz has been his nemesis, however.
The Cuban great has had his number at the last three World Championships although there were suggestions from Hamburg that the champion was having difficulty continuing to make the 81kg weight and may move up.
That may seem like encouraging news but Dunne suggested differently.
The former WBA World super bantamweight champion made it clear that the gap between the pair would continue to close and that overcoming the Cuban was a goal they want to achieve.
“Let’s not cross a line here and say that we want (La Cruz to move up). Joe wants to beat Cruz. That’s the target: Beating Cruz and winning the Olympic gold medal.”
Ward was the only one of a five-strong team to medal in Germany but Dunne professed himself satisfied with the individual and collective performances while pointing out that this year and 2018 are being viewed very much as building blocks by the elite unit.
The base is strong.
The female team finished fourth in Europe recently, the men managed the same in the continental stakes while finishing ninth on the ladder at the worlds and there is more young talent emerging up through the system.
Dunne’s day job caused him to miss Dublin’s All-Ireland football semi-final win over Tyrone but he remains part of the backroom team assembled by Jim Gavin as the squad seeks an historic three-in-a-row later this month.
And he admitted he would be open to continuing that association with the GAA giants beyond this current season, too.
“I’m open to everything,” he said.
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