By Kevin Byrne (follow Kevin on Twitter @kevoobyrne)
Tommy McCarthy’s defection to the professional ranks leaves an opening for a heavyweight in Ireland.
The Belfast boxer was a two-in-a-row champ and was looking like a real prospect for the Rio Olympics following excellent form at the 2013 European and World Championships.
However, Steven Ward and Gary Sweeney are seeing his exit as a major opportunity to step in and fill the void.
The pair fight in Friday’s 91kg Elite Senior Final at Dublin’s National Stadium.
Neither man has won a senior title before, so whatever happens, there’s going to be unbridled joy at the end of the bout, and heartache in the other corner.
Here, irish-boxing.com heard from Monkstown’s Ward, who revealed that the departure of McCarthy has been a gift from the gods as far as he is concerned.
Not only is he down a dominant rival, he is now in position to take the Northern Ireland heavyweight slot at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and he has also gained a new friend and sparring partner.
You’re into the heavyweight final and a chance to win that title at last.
Steven Ward: “Yeah I’ve been in the line so long. As my coach always says, I served my time long enough. I was always sort of toppled at the last hurdle. Obviously McCarthy we’d that many fights, they were always pretty close fights and he always just seemed to nick ahead of me.
“He’s away in the pro ranks now and I’ve been waiting long enough for it. So the first final this year and I’m planning to go all the way. I feel good, I feel confident.
“I’ve had a couple of good, tough fights now. I beat Krys Sikora there handy enough I feel. I was in third gear and could have picked it up another two gears if I’d wanted to.
“Now I’m against Sweeney in the final. He’s a good young kid, strong and keen. That’s what it’s all about. It’s always good to see who’s going to come out on top.”
It makes for an interesting clash of styles.
“Definitely. He’s sorta like a wee Joe Frazier, he bobs and moves, but I definitely feel like I’m the fittest heavyweight about. I’ve just got to put it to use in the final, hit the ground running and see how it goes.”
With Tommy McCarthy gone pro, it looks like you’re going to the Commonwealth Games this summer as well.
“Yeah, I’d like to think so. Obviously if it was me and McCarthy again, I’ve no doubt in my head that of he’d stayed amateur, he’d be going.
“But he turned over and that’s good – because we’re sparring partners now. We can bounce off each other and it means I don’t have to come to Dublin. He’s five minutes up the road from my house. He actually lives up the road.
“We’ve started being a bit closer mates now that he’s away pro. We’re gonna bounce off each other. I’d like to think that I’m on the plane and this is a busy year for me. I know there’s no majors but I want to win the title and hopefully keep it.”
What does the tattoo say?
“It says ‘to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift’. It’s an old saying by a fella called Steve Prefontaine, that was one of the reasons I left work to box full-time. I was looking at the poster in the club and it made me turn my life around.”
What was the job?
“I was a joiner. Unfortunately! I was a chippie and used to train with the coaches. It was hard times, training at six in the morning, work and labour, then training at six at night. Life’s too good at the minute where I’m training full-time. I don’t want it to stop. You’ll see that in the final.”