Another first for Joe Ward as he creates Irish boxing history
Westmeath man the first Irishman to win three European Championship gold medals
Joe Ward: chalked up a third European Championship gold medal by defating the Russian champion in the final in the Ukraine. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Fast becoming the most decorated athlete in Irish sport, Moate’s Joe Ward skilfully bought boxing back to the ring at the European Championships in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
After over a year of fractious disputes in the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) board room, Ward’s third Championship gold medal to add to his World Championship silver from Doha 2015 and bronze from Almaty in 2013, shows that the boxers, at least, have been untroubled by the turmoil.
The 23-year-old can now look towards the World Championships in Hamburg in August as one of the main hopes for a podium place. Ward made it to the final of the World Championships two years ago, where only the Cubans, Russia and Azerbaijan beat Ireland on the medals stable. Ward lost out in that final 3-0 to the Cuban light heavyweight, Julio Cesar la Cruz.
The Westmeath southpaw beat Russia’s Muslim Gadzhimagomedov on a unanimous decision – 30-27,30-27,30-27,29-28,29-28 – over three rounds to claim his third gold, the first boxer in Irish history to do so.
Brendan Irvine and Kurt walker also come home with bronze medals, which again put Ireland fourth in the medal table behind England, Russia and Ukraine. The three medal winners along with qualifier Sean McComb means Ireland will have a team of four boxers in the Hamburg World Championships.
Ward’s win also smoothes out Bernard Dunne’s turbulent arrival into the Irish boxing scene as the high performance director. Dunne came in earlier this year following the departures of the golden generation of talent, Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor, who all turned professional after last year’s disappointing Rio Olympic Games.
Freak knee injury
Ward flashed onto the international radar when he won his first European gold as a 17-year-old. Then it was only because he sustained a freak knee injury in his opening bout at the 2013 European Championships that brought his competition to a prematurely end that he was denied another first. The weekend’s win in Ukraine could so easily have been his fourth.
Even now Ward could threaten Taylor’s unprecedented six wins at European level if he remains amateur for his entire career.
The reality is that Ward looked largely untroubled right through the week and was easily up to the aggressive Russian in the final. Ward eased into the first round of his bout sounding out the Russian before reacting positively to more upbeat tempo from his opponent in the second.
But Ward’s quality was apparent with the southpaw picking off cleaner scores throughout and taking some too. Ward was more controlled and scored better and although the Russian put in a late desperate shift in a brawling third round, the judges were not impressed and gave it to the Irishman.
It takes his career on another upward curve after the pain of defeat in his first bout of the Rio Olympics, when a split decision went against him in the Riocentro Complex.
He was critically warned twice by the Chinese referee and two points were deducted in the second and third rounds, which effectively cost him the bout.
Although far from compensation for that disappointment, the win will give Ward confidence going to Germany as Europe is rated as the strongest of the continental qualifiers for the World Championships.