Ireland's Olympic boxing programme has received an enormous boost with the confirmation that Joe Ward has spurned a number of offers to go pro and signed on through to Tokyo in 2020, writes Brendan O'Brien.
The Westmeath light-heavyweight has been a constant target for the professional game's movers and shakers and he admitted there had been more offers on the table only last month after winning his third European title in Ukraine.
Yet, if the 23-year old's head has been turned by anyone it was by Bernard Dunne, high-performance director for the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), rather than the money men from the pro circuit.
The Moate man has also received assurances from Sport Ireland that he will be supported financially from here through to the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020: a significant development given the fact that athletes are still funded by the government on a year-by-year basis.
"I’m staying around," Ward confirmed on Wednesday morning at an open workout at the Institute of Sport in Dublin ahead of the five-man Irish assault on the World Championships in Hamburg next month.
"We sat down, Bernard and myself, and also my family, and I saw the vision he wants for this team and what I can bring to this team and I felt it would be the right decision for me to stay around until Tokyo.
"Now I’m focused on the World Championships, which is only six weeks away. I got selected as Ireland captain to lead this team onto Tokyo. It’s a great honour for me and it will be great for me to stay around and show this team the way."
Masters at work...July 12, 2017
Ward, who is seeking to add gold to the bronze and silver world medals claimed in previous years, still has unfinished business with the Olympics after the disappointment of losing a split decision in his first bout in Rio last year.
That's for tomorrow, today is all about the Worlds.
His colleagues in Germany next month will include Kurt Walker and Brendan Irvine, both of whom won bronze at the recent Europeans, Sean McComb as well as Dean Gardiner who has been added to the team as a result of an injury suffered by an English boxer.
"It’s really positive and we’re going in the right direction to get Ireland back to where it was," said Ward in relation to the team's disastrous showing in Rio and the loss of boxers such as Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor to the pros.
"You saw in the European Championships we were very successful. We could have also got a lot more medals. "The little things make a big difference but at the end of the day it’s a very strong team and we’re a young team but a developing team which can go a long way."