World Championship silver medallist and reigning European light-heavyweight champion Ward will contest the 81kg final at the National Elite Championships tomorrow, taking on Anthony Browne of St Michael’s, Dublin.
After deciding against turning pro following his disappointment at the Rio Olympic Games, the Moate clubman is now aiming to kick off 2017 with a domestic title ahead of this year’s European and World Championships.
Ward’s decision bucked a trend following the departure of Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor to the pro ranks, but the 23-year-old wants to set the standard for a new generation of Irish boxers.
“There’s a big year ahead of me,” said Ward. “There’s a lot expected from me and I want to show these new lads that hopefully I can be a driving force for amateur boxing and bring it back to where it was.
“I want to show these lads how it’s done — how to go to majors and win medals. They need someone like me who’s been there and done that to bring this new team back to where Irish boxing should be — at the top,” added the four-time Irish elite champion, who suffered a shock defeat to unheralded Ecuadorian Carlos Andres Mina at the Rio Olympics last August.
Ward had entered the tournament as a medal prospect following his silver medal success at the 2015 World Championships, but Mina’s roughhouse tactics upset the decorated Irishman, who insists that loss will spur him on towards the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“That’s the motivation now that I have — to make sure it doesn’t happen again and bring this team on to big things and hopefully we can all perform and train well together and learn from each other.”
The two-time European elite champion considered following the likes of Barnes and Conlan into the paid game and it is understood that he was in negotiations with two American promoters before deciding to delay his move.
“It was a massive decision,” he explained. “I got a few offers and I travelled over to America to talk to some promoters, but Irish boxing is something that I’ve always loved doing.
“It’s a great sport with a great team around you… and I feel I still have a few years left in me as an amateur.
“I’m still only 23 so I have another three or four years and I’ll still only be 26 for the next Olympics, so I’m still young and in time I’ll go professional after that,” added Ward, who defeated a gutsy Michael Frayne last week in his first competitive bout since the Olympics.
“It was nice to get back in there and settle in nicely and get the win,” said Ward.
“The mind always tells you you’re a bit rusty when you’re out that long and you feel a bit different, but I felt okay in there.
“It wasn’t really a hard one but it was a gutsy performance by him and it was nice to get the three rounds under my belt,” added Ward ahead of what will be his first domestic final since his 2014 success, having been committed to the International Boxing Association’s APB pro competition over the past two years.