Joe Ward commits to Tokyo 2020

Performances in the ring will ultimately dictate whether Bernard Dunne’s remit as Irish amateur boxing’s high performance director is a success but the former world champion has already recorded a pair of notable successes outside the ropes.

Joe Ward confirmed yesterday that he has rejected all advances from the pro game and committed to leading the Irish boxing team through to the next Olympics, in Tokyo in 2020, as team captain.

And Sean McComb has revealed that enough financial backing has now been secured to keep him in the amateur ranks too.

Dunne played a key role in both cases, consulting with Sport Ireland and his employers, the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), to come up with deals keeping both highly-prized fighters within the amateur ranks.

With Ward, it amounts to a commitment that he will be funded financially through to Tokyo — a significant move that goes beyond the usual year-to-year Government backing — while McComb is to receive some Government investment after being controversially dropped from the carding system.

Ward’s commitment is crucial.

Still only 23, the light-heavyweight won his third European gold medal last month and he will look to add a World Championship gold to his collection of silver and bronze claimed at previous meets when he hits Hamburg next month.

There is also some unfinished business with the Olympics.

“There were a lot of negotiations between myself and the professionals,” said Ward who was beaten in his first bout in Rio last year. “When I came back from the European Championships, I sat down with Bernard and saw his vision. I felt I could really buy into this because I want to achieve.

“It’s really positive and we’re going the right direction to get Ireland back to where it was. You saw in the European Championships we were very successful. We could have also got a lot more medals.”

McComb was one who could have added to the haul but, while he lost his European quarter-final bout to England’s Luke McCormack after a controversial split decision, he had already beaten Russia’s reigning world and European champion Vitaly Dunaystev.

That win qualified the Belfast boxer for next month’s worlds and it highlighted again the questionable decision to take away state funding from the southpaw who had clear pedigree having claimed bronze at the inaugural European Games, in Baku, in 2015.

“I found a way. Bernard sort of spoke to the Sports Council and the IABA and my coaches at home and my family members and all… I wasn’t sure that I was going to come back but I found a way. I am financially safe for now. Just with everybody’s help. That allows me to train here, towards the worlds.” He deserves better but this is a start.

Like Ward, McComb contemplated a life in the pro ranks but his heart was set on amateur glory and he has promised to repay an investment which will keep the light welterweight boxing for the rest of 2017, for now, by winning a world medal.

Ward and McComb will be joined in Hamburg by Kurt Walker and Brendan Irvine, both of whom claimed bronze medals at the Europeans, as well as Dean Gardiner who has been added to the ticket after an injury suffered by, and withdrawal of, an English boxer.

Dunne will be there to see them compete.

The former WBA super bantamweight champion is only months into his high performance brief and he was caught in the crossfire when internal IABA politicking included bitter debates over who should have the final say in picking teams and leading them at major championships.

Bottom line now is that Dunne will be the man at the tiller in Hamburg, just as he was in Ukraine last month, and he was keen to move on from the controversies as he hosted an open training day for the elite male and female boxers at their HQ on the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown.

“I was always focused on the boxing and I’m still very focused on the boxing,” he said.

“For me it’s about making sure these guys are happy, enjoying training, and that these guys are improving. You can see from the environment here today — we have our lead male and female teams here — that they are very much focused on the job of being prepared.”

His enthusiasm is clear. Dunne talks up the underage and female squads even more than the elite males who have garnered most of the plaudits and he is adamant that there was no time during the recent controversies that he ever regretted accepting the role.

“No, no. I knew it was a big challenge coming in. Any job would be. This, for me, is the biggest job in Irish sport. To be given that opportunity, I jumped at it.”


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