Gallant Joe Ward wins silver at World Championships

BoxingBy Sean McGoldrick
Joe Ward beating his opponent in the semi-finals in Doha
Joe Ward beating his opponent in the semi-finals in Doha

THERE was no gold medal coronation for Ireland Joe Ward in Doha tonight as he lost the light heavyweight decider to the Cuban captain Julio La Cruz after a cracking contest.

The 30-27 scoreline scarcely does justice to Ward's gallant effort. He gave it his best shot but the brilliant Cuban - who is five years older than Ward just proved  better on the night.

"Overall this championship's has been pretty decent for me," said Ward. "I came out here to qualify for the Olympic Games and I achieved that.

"It was a tough fight, the first round changed a lot. I thought I done enough to win the first round, but it was close and I kind of had to push on a bit then and he showed his class by keeping out of range.

"Overall, it’s been a great championship, I’m going back [to Ireland] with a silver medal and going to Rio. I’m going to learn from this now and all I can do is get better and improve with that fight and see how we go in the Olympic Games.

"It was a big ask for me, he’s not three-time world champion for nothing, he’s a very, very talented boxer, but I showed in there I can mix it with the best," said Ward.

This was La Cruz's third successive World title win in the 81kg category but if it is any consolation to the Irish camp there the signs that Ward is beginning to get the measure of the self styled 'Doctor'.

The pair clashed in the quarter final of the World championship in Almaty two years ago. On that occasion Ward, who had just recovered from a dislocated knee cap and was short on sparring and he scarcely laid a glove on the Cuban.

It was all very different today. Indeed, the Cuban hit the canvas in the opening thirty seconds after Ward hit him with a combination but the referee ruled that it was a push.

La Cruz's ability to get in and score and retreat before Ward was able to unleash his powerful back hand obviously impressed the judges and crucially he got the round on all three judges' cards but it was close.

La Cruz was now in his element and the 2015 AIBA World Boxer of the Year was able to steer clear of Ward who was forced to pursue him and leave himself open for more punishment. At the end of the second round the Cuban had an unassailable 20-18 lead on all three judges' cards.

Essentially Ward now needed a knock out and in fairness he went after it and the fight evolved into a cracking contest. At times Ward looked to be hurting his opponent but the Cuban was still able to get off some telling shots as well.

On balance the Irishman looked to have shaded the round but the judges thought otherwise and in the event it was immaterial to the final outcome.

It was gold for Cuba, their second of the night and their fourth of the championships which re-establishes their status as the top nation in the world in amateur boxing.

But while disappointed not to take home the gold medal Ward achieved his objective in Doha securing qualification for the Rio Olympics where he is likely to face La Cruz again.

Ward has also secured his first ever silver medal at the Elite World championships to add to the bronze he won two years ago and Ireland go home from the World championships with three medals for the first time ever, a gold, a silver and a bronze.

Sean McGoldrick in Doha