Tortuous wait goes on for our brightest hope, Ward
By Ciarán Gallagher
WHILE Adam Nolan’s Olympic fate revealed victory, Tommy McCarthy just missed out on becoming Ireland’s surprise package at London 2012. Meanwhile, a long tortuous wait goes on for our brightest hope.It is hard to know what would be more difficult for Joe Ward to deal with – a definitive end to his Olympic dream, which would at the very least provide some heartbroken closure; or his current predicament, which sees him relying on a rule-book quirk to get to the Games through the backdoor.
Ward must wait until the end of the on-going European qualifiers at the very earliest until he will learn if he will get an Olympic place by default. The normal wildcard process which sees ‘weaker’ nations rewarded with a spot does not apply to any fighters competing this week in Trabzon and the Moate teenager has a slim hope of earning that place by way of the fact that he was the best-ranked light-heavyweight not to have booked an
Olympic spot at last year’s World Championships.
The wait goes on, Ward’s stomach most probably bouncing with anxiety more often than his feet do in the ring.
But the factors must be looked at as to why exactly our great hope is currently in this situation.
The first, of course, from an Irish perspective at least is those precocious young Turks.
‘We Wuz Robbed’was the general feeling from most reports, boxing fans and followers this week after Ward’s 18-15 reverse to Turkey’s Bahram Muzaffer. Last week, this column warned of the common worry held about meeting home fighters.
The fact that eight out of 10 boxers from the home nation reached this week’s semi-finals does lend some support to this view – particularly given the fact that not one Turk managed to qualify through the Worlds last year.
But while a whiff of corruption lingers, there is also a major problem of back-slapping and plain childishness which may have went against Ward and it is now something which may be needed to rescue him.
Most imagine that pay-offs dictate questionable results – it is not always that sinister, but sometimes more laughable.
The judges for Ward’s loss were from Philippines, China, Italy, Algeria and Croatia – each one of these judges has been involved in at least three bouts involving a Turkish fighter this week and only one judge has scored a fight which resulted in a loss for a home fighter.
In a past tournament, judges from one of these countries failed to award any Irish fighter points during bouts, most likely due to a minor quarrel between the nations at a previous training camp/tournament; this is how infantile the judging process can be. Never mind some hypothetical influence from the host country, a minor gripe can warp the outcome of a contest.
Then again, Ward may now be reliant on the efforts of Irish officials to mollycoddle the powers that be and slap the right backs as they chase that default spot.
The next factor to take into account is Ward’s own failure. This is a harsh view to take, but a truthful perspective and one the 18-year-old himself has taken before Trabzon.
We are, of course, not referring to his loss this week but Ward’s slip-up at the World Championships. There were eight light-heavyweight places for London available in Baku last October and the Irish fighter fell at the final hurdle, losing his last-16 bout to Iran’s Eshan Rouzbahani.
To qualify for the Olympics is an achievement in itself; it is a tough ask and the old refrain rings true in pursuit of a coveted placing, ‘take your chance.’ With eight places up for grabs, Ward had a great chance to book his ticket in Baku. However, since then expectation has increased to an unrealistic degree, which brings us to our third factor – public pressure.
The dog on the street seemed to be awaiting Ward’s homecoming parade with an Olympic gold, with odds on 4-7 being offered on him taking a medal of any colour home from London.
This presumption was frankly naïve, if not idiotic – and one blinkered optimists should learn from ahead of Katie Taylor’s qualifying hopes next month. Our sportspeople need our support, they do not need to feel that their nation’s hopes is resting on their shoulders, especially when there are bad judging decisions being made.
It is difficult to win an Olympic place, just ask Ward’s predecessor as Irish 81kg champion Kenny Egan who missed out on the Athens Games and had to wait until the last-chance saloon before booking his ticket for Beijing. Ward’s recent dismantlement of Egan may also have warped views.
It was reasonable – and still slightly ignorant – to expect Ward to claim one of eight places in Baku; it may have even be reasonable to predict that Ward could come through Trabazon. But to take an Olympic medal as a given is only putting weight on his shoulders and helping to make him a marked man.
Maybe it is the result of a Roy Keane mentality: Ireland shouldn’t compete to compete, we should compete to win. This is all well and good, but much like Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland could not prepare for a blind linesman and referee in Paris, Joe Ward cannot prepare for blind judges in Trabzon.
Numerous factors can go against fighters, in and out of the ring – now let’s hope some go for Ward as the wait goes on.
*Ciarán Gallagher’s Mail Box column appears every Friday in the Irish Daily Mail. Twitter: @gallagherbox