Joe Ward last night hailed his first Irish title win since 2014 as the start of his journey back to international success.
Ward, the reigning European champion and a World Championship silver medallist, claimed a 4-1 split decision win over Dubliner Anthony Browne in the 81kg decider at the National Elite Championship finals last night.
Seeking to rebuild from the disappointment of the Rio Olympics, victory at Dublin’s National Stadium marked Ward’s first Irish title in three years as he had not competed in the domestic tournament since his 2014 win.
With European and World Championships scheduled for 2017, Ward is aiming to make his mark once again on the international scene following his slump in Rio.
“The nationals is always the hardest part because that’s the part where your journey starts,” said Ward after his win. “To go in here and get my national title back, it’s great.
“It’s onwards and upwards and I move on,” added the 23-year-old.
Ward boxed aggressively from the opening bell, abandoning his usual back-foot style as he forced his opponent to the ropes on a number of occasions in the first round.
Browne attempted to combat his more experienced foe by switching between orthodox and southpaw, but the tactic did not appear to cause Ward much trouble to begin with — although the Dubliner had more success in a competitive second round.
Ward picked up a cut — seemingly from a head clash — over his left eye in the final stanza, with Browne becoming more aggressive with the scent of blood as he pursued the Moate man. By this stage, Ward was visibly tiring but the reigning European champion remained composed and managed to see out the win.
“I had to make him give me respect because he’s a young lad with a lot of ambition,” said Ward on his fast start. “I knew going out there that I had to put the mark down nice and fast and it was good to get the win.
“I felt it went okay, Tony was very gutsy. He tried and parts of the fight he had his moments, but overall I was always in control,” added the Moate man.
Ward’s fellow World silver medallist, Kellie Harrington, succeeded Katie Taylor (now professional) as female lightweight champion with victory over Clonmel’s Shauna O’Keeffe.
Glasnevin’s Harrington also claimed a 4-1 split win after seeing off a game O’Keeffe at 60kg, which is one of the female Olympic weights.
Hailing her opponent as a “goer”, St Vincent’s hospital worker claimed she will postpone her celebrations until tomorrow night.
“I’m in work in the morning — only for five hours,” said Harrington, who had moved up in weight after claiming the 2016 64kg title. “After that, straight to Five Guys for a burger, chips and a milkshake. I wish they’d sponsor me,” she joked.
“I’ve been chasing that 60kg title and wasn’t confident to go for it for years. I thought this year was my year. Katie’s not here so why not go in and give it a bash?”
In the battle of the champions at 56kg, Belfast’s Kurt Walker defended his crown against reigning light-flyweight title holder Stephen McKenna of Old School, Monaghan, who jumped two weight classes for this year’s tournament.
The defending champion’s greater accuracy in the third and final round helped him retain his title on a unanimous decision.
Referencing Michael Conlan’s departure to the pros, Walker said: “For once in my life I’m No. 1 bantamweight in Ireland. I’ve never been No. 1 in my life, so it feels good that I’m the boxer that they have to beat.”
A new light-flyweight champion was crowned as Derry’s Blains Dobbins claimed a split-decision victory over Darryl Moran of Donegal.
Moran’s fast hands tested southpaw Dobbins, whose nose was bloodied in the opening round from his opponent’s speedy shots.
Dobbins sporadically landed some good punches, however, and the judges rewarded his efforts with a 3-2 verdict.
At lightweight, Olympic’s Patrick Mongan upset Dubliner George Bates to claim the vacant 60kg crown.
In the opening bout of the night, Kristina O’Hara of St John Bosco defeated Mayo’s Shannon Sweeney to claim the women’s light-flyweight (48kg) title, while Christine Desmond (Fr Horgans, 75kg) and Carly McNaul (Ormeau Road, 51kg) both picked up titles on walkovers in two of the female Olympic weight categories.
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