From the GAA to MSG – Donal Ward describes incredible boxing journey


Donal Ward became the first Irishman to reach the finals of the New York Golden Gloves in over 20 years and is keen to continue building having fought under the famous ceiling of Madison Square Garden’s Theater.

The Roscommon middleweight, now living in Queens, won three bouts in the tournament now known as the Ring Masters to reach the final at the Felt Forum but would lose out in the decider to Famous Wilson on a 3-2 split decision.

Not bad for a boxer more known for his exploits on the GAA pitch than the boxing ring having played inter-county football for both his native Roscommon and adopted New York.

However, the 30-year-old, who admits to being enticed by the lure of the pro game, is no Freddie Flintoff or Rio Ferdinand.

Indeed, the half back has more boxing pedigree than many current pros in Ireland.

Ward has a storied boxing history having been brought into the Loughglynn Boxing Club by his father Frank and proceeded to show a real talent for the sport over the years.

The Westerner told Irish-Boxing.com how “my father Frank was the coach and brought me to the club when I was 8 years old. I won 10 Connacht titles and four all-Ireland’s. I won a Boy, Youth, Junior and Intermediate national title.”

“I won silver and gold medals at the Youth and Schoolboys four nations. I boxed in the 2009 European Union championship in Poland then I stopped boxing in 2009 when I started playing county football.”

Ward’s dalliances with the sweet science continued into his twenties and he outlines how “I returned to boxing in 2013 when living in Dublin, I boxed in the World Police and Fire games representing the Irish Prison Service winning a gold medal in 81kg division.”

“I continued training and entered the National Elites in 2014 losing to Mattew Tinker of St Francis in the semi final.”

After another break from competitive action and having moved to New York two years ago, Ward found himself back wearing gloves.

Some Stateside wins in 2018 persuaded him to try his luck in the Golden Gloves and the fighter with over 150 bouts to his name found himself more than competitive against some of Big Apple’s stand-out amateurs.

Ward outlined how “I kept training and competed in club shows until I moved to New York in 2017 where I met Mattew Tinker who now lives here.”

“I joined the club he is in New York Athletic Club where I met EJ Burke and Mike Fulham who are great coaches and well known all over New York.

“I fought four times in 2018 winning them all and then I entered the Ring Masters in February 2019, winning three fights and losing the final.”

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Ward entered the contest with winning in mind and, by all accounts, was extremely unfortunate not to do so suffering a finals defeat that prevented him progressing to the National Golden Gloves, a contest USA Boxing chief Billy Walsh would have a keen eye on.

“I trained hard for 5 months,” he tells.

“I dropped weight to 75kgs and sparred in top clubs all over New York. I had three fights in two months and to box in Madison Square Garden in an atmosphere I never experienced in any GAA or boxing event, it was unbelievable.”

“I was delighted to fight in such a famous venue and to have my family come over from Ireland for the fight is something I’ll never forget.

“I really thought I won the final. I definitely thought I won’t at least two out of the three rounds. It would have been an amazing experience to compete Nationals against the best in America.”

Ward had proven himself a talented fighter throughout his youth and it seems he would have become a regular at Senior Finals night at the very least if he continued to trade leather.

However, he explains that, at 19, when the call came to play for Roscommon, it was something he couldn’t ignore.

Ward recalled how “growing up, boxing was always my first sport but when I was 19 I was called into Roscommon senior panel and played for five years along with my club Western Gales.”

“It was a tough decision to make at the time but to play at the highest level in GAA was something I knew I wanted to try. Who knows what would have happened if I stayed at boxing?” he muses.

He may well find out, too, if the right offer comes along, as Ward admits that a move to the pros does appeal.

The run to the finals seems to have given the former GAA star a boost and he feels a Madison Square Garden hosted finals night is the perfect platform from which to leap into the pros.

Ward notes how “it is something I’m very interested in. I would have thought about over the years but when my boxing is going well at the moment and I feel good I would like to give it a go and see where it takes me.”

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Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com