Irish High Performance Director Bernard Dunne has backed Joe Ward to continue closing the gap on Julio Cesar La Cruz and eventually overtake his Cuban rival in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
Ward was beaten for the third time by La Cruz at the weekend, but pushed the Caribbean maestro very close in their World Championships final in Hamburg.
It was the closest Ward has come against La Cruz in their three World Championships clashes over the past four years, losing 29-28 on three cards and 30-27 on the other, but starting well and finishing strong against the four-time gold medalist.
With two years until the next Worlds and three years until the Olympics, it is feasible to say that the Irish team captain will only be coming into his prime years around this time.
Dunne believes that Ward definitely has the capability and ceiling to take over from La Cruz, and reasoned to The42.ie that “Joe is only 23 and Cruz is 29 [actually is 28].”
“Cruz is probably at that level where he’ll stay, while Joe is just getting better and better.”
“I’ve noticed a real difference in him since I’ve come in, in terms of his own focus and how he applies himself.”
“He demonstrated to me how much he wants it and wants to improve, and for us to be able to secure him for the next three years is a huge coup for Irish sport.”
Giving further praise to the Moate man, who became Ireland’s first male three-time Senior World Championships medalist, Dunne described how “he’s a superb athlete, probably the best athlete we have in the country at the moment. Actually, I’m doing him an injustice: he is the best athlete we have in the country at the moment.”
“He’s the most consistent. There’s only one guy above him in the weight division, and Joe is closing that gap all the time. And his goal over the next three years is to really close that up.”
While the possibility of La Cruz defecting from Cuba and turning pro has been floated by some, Dunne wants Ward to become the world’s best the old fashioned way.
Dunne said “let’s not cross a line here and say that we want that. Joe wants to beat Cruz, that’s the target: beating Cruz and winning the Olympic gold medal.”
“That’s the goal.”