Spotlight on the Lionhearts’ classy Irishman Joe Ward

Since his big breakthrough on the international stage following his sensational gold medal at the AIBA Junior World Championships in 2009 followed by the Middleweight (75kg) title a year later at the AIBA Youth World Championships in 2010, Ireland’s Joe Ward has gone from strength to strength, impressing the world with his quality blend of poise and power. After moving up to Light Heavyweight (81kg) and claiming the European crown in 2011, the teenage southpaw suffered a dip in form in the early part of 2012, missing out on qualification to the London Olympic Games, but has since come back stronger than ever.

The classy southpaw with devastatingly quick hands has also established himself as the British Lionhearts’ leading fighter at Light Heavyweight (80-85) in World Series of Boxing (WSB) and made it a hat-trick of Irish titles last month, sending in the process Beijing 2008 Olympics silver medallist Kenneth Egan into retirement. Ward now has his sights set on more glory in WSB and defending his European crown before all the focus will centre on making it big at the AIBA World Boxing Championships Almaty 2013 in October. We were keen to get his views so we put a few questions to highly talented Irishman.

Tell us about your memories of winning gold at the 2009 AIBA Junior World Championships in Yerevan. What are your recollections of your first appearance on the international stage? 
I was very happy to be part of that experience but I was very serious about showing the world what I could do. The team around me was excellent and we trained very hard in the build up to the event in order for me to be in the best shape possible. I kept my focus throughout the tournament and I grew in confidence with each victory. Winning the gold was incredible, so I have very fond memories of Armenia, it gave me the belief that I could really go on to achieve things in this sport.

The Youth World and European crowns followed and now a hat-trick of Irish titles. Could you have suffered from over-confidence at the Olympic Qualifying Event? 
I felt unlucky about missing out on qualification for the London 2012 Olympic Games. It was very hard for me to take but it has only made me even more determined to succeed.

How has it been acclimatising to the pro format of WSB? Are you enjoying taking part in the competition with the British Lionhearts? 
WSB is a fantastic competition, highly regarded in Ireland; I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. We are now in the quarter-finals against Mexico Guerreros, it will be tough but we believe that as a group that we can advance to the semis. The pro format is a great experience, many boxers have told me that they would have liked to have been a part of it had it been around during their time. I am pleased with my performances in the competition, there is still more to come from me, the knockout stages should be great for the fans.

Tell us how you began boxing. 
My family has always boxed. My uncles and cousins are all involved. My grandfather was probably my biggest influence whilst I have several family members on the committee of my local boxing club.

What do you love most about boxing? 
It is one of the hardest sports out there, you need to train a lot and when you are in the ring, it is you against your opponent. You need to be technically good and very strong mentally to succeed in the discipline. You get a real buzz from it.

Tell us about your training regime, how often do train and do you have a secret formula? 
I train twice daily and that four times a week. There is no special ingredient; hard work and dedication are the most important. Boxing is something you have to immerse yourself into fully, you have to give your all, push yourself to the very limits in order to have any chance of succeeding. I am also lucky to be able to train at the High Performing Centre with some of the best coaches in the world.

Why has Ireland produced some many talented boxers? 
The sport is part of the national identity in Ireland. It is in our blood. With the opening of the High Performing Centre, we are now even better equipped to rival the big boxing nations across the world. Ireland is receiving a lot of attention due to our boxers doing well at the Olympic Games and Katie Taylor pioneering the women’s game.

You beat Kenneth Egan at the 2011 Irish National Championships and again last month and he has since decided to hang up his gloves. How do you view this? 
For me winning the Nationals in 2011 was big, especially considering Kenny was a Beijing 2008 Olympics silver medallist. I have a lot of respect for him, for what he has achieved in the sport. When you enter a ring to face someone, all that matters is for to defeat your opponent. I wish Kenny all the best but I am focused on myself.

Is your big objective the Rio 2016 Olympic Games now? 
I am not looking that far ahead, nothing is certain that far in the future. I now know there is lot of options for me, if I stay focused. Presently I am solely focused on the British Lionhearts, it would be fantastic to win that competition but there are some really tough teams still left in WSB.

What are your plans for 2013? 
To continue growing and developing as a fighter, I want to be the best that I can be so I need to continue working hard and applying myself. Now, the plan is to win WSB. Then of course I will look to defend my European title before turning my attention to the AIBA World Boxing Championships.

Look out for young Joe Ward this year, he might have gone under the radar after failing to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games, but this talented fighter has an extremely bright future ahead of him. You can track his progress in the quart-finals of WSB during the weekends of the 23 and 30 March or catch him at the EUBC European Championships from 30 May to 9 June.

Relive Ward vs. Denys Solonenko from week 10