Heavyweight Ward aiming to go one better and win gold in Glasgow

Heavyweight fighter Steven Ward is aiming for gold at this month's Commonwealth Games.
Heavyweight fighter Steven Ward is aiming for gold at this month's Commonwealth Games.

“I was gutted. I think if you had offered me a pint of Guinness for my silver medal, I pretty much would have snatched it out of your hand!”

Steven Ward’s recollection of the bitter feeling of defeat in the final of the heavyweight division at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi speaks volumes of his will to win.

Ward with his coach, Paul Johnston

Ward with his coach, Paul Johnston

In just a few weeks’ time, the 24-year-old fighter will have the chance to go one better and bring home gold when he emabarks on his second Commonwealth adventure in Glasgow. And make no mistake, he’s a real contender to do just that.

When I caught up with him at Monkstown Amateur Boxing Club, Ward cut a relaxed figure, joking with me about being about being a few minutes late for the interview. But when he got talking about boxing his passion for the sport was striking - as was his focus on the task ahead of him.

Ward was in good company in the gym. His coach and mentor Paul Johnston was there, as was Commonwealth gold medallist and former British welterwight chamipon, Neil Sinclair.

Four years ago Ward was beaten to the top prize by Englishman Simon Vallily and, with the benefit of hindsight, he admits it was a positive experience - even if it was tainted by initial disappointment.

“Even hearing that name (Simon Vallily) sometimes drives me mad because I remember, not long after the Games, we went to a tournament and he was there and I was itching to get a draw against him in the first fight,” he said.

“Delhi was a great experience. I loved it. I think I loved the fact that I went there and - not being cocky - I knew in my head that if I went out and performed to what [I knew] I could, that I would do well and that I could get a medal and that I could get gold.

“That’s what every boxer is there for. They’re always going to go for gold. No-one goes and hopes to make the last 16 or quarter-finals. If you are going to go, you may as well go the full whack.”

He added: “It was an amazing experience, an overwhelming experience.

“The support we got back home was amazing and I’m hoping we get that support again - especially with the Games being closer to home this time.”

Ward’s path into the ring began when he was kid. He openly admits that he “wasn’t allowed to box” as a youngster but his grandfather was a boxer and he has early memories of jabbing a punchbag in his garage.

His interest in the sport really flourished when he walked through the doors of Monkstown. By the age of 11 he found himself between the ropes, ready for his first fight. In his own words, he was bitten by the bug.

He lost that first bout to a slightly more experienced opponent but despite defeat, he has good memories of his debut.

“I remember loving it,” he smiles. “The crowd, the nerves. I remember lying in bed the night before thinking: ‘how can I get out of this’? The nerves were there and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it but I’m glad I did. If I had bailed out I doubt very much that I’d be sitting here today.

“I remember getting in the ring and looking across. I wasn’t really sure what to do. When the bell rang I went out and was a bit stand-offish, a bit hesitant at first, then ... BOOM! My opponent hit me a dig in the face. From that point on it all went out the window and I wasn’t too scared to hit him back!”

Ward’s talent was spotted and nurtured by Johnston - a longtime coach at the Cashel Drive club.

Asked how much he has helped his development as a fighter, Ward replied: “It would be hard to put into words, not only in boxing terms but outside of the sport as well.

“He taught me that it’s not just about what happens in the club, it’s about outside as well; the way I present myself to people.

“He’s been a godsend to me. He’s really helped me a lot and in the boxing world. If you sat down and counted the amount of hours he and I have put in it would be scary. It’s not just me who is going to the Commonwealth Games, it’s him as well because he’s the one who has done a lot of work and put a lot of tireless hours in.”

With his training programme for this months Games in full flight, he believes the silver medal won in Delhi could prove to be an invaluable but also maintains that any boxer is only as good as their last performance in the four corners of truth.

“I went out for gold last time and I’ll go out for gold this time,” he said.

“Some people might think I have a more realistic chance because I got silver last time but you are only as good as your last fight is the old saying in the boxing game.

“I can’t take anything for granted. It’s good to know that I’m up there and that I deserve to be there.

“I always remember when I was in India and I got to the medal stages my dad texted me saying: ‘I always knew you would, it’s just nice that other people are starting to realise that now’.

“It’s good to have that bit of support behind me but I think it’s almost the feeling that I’ve got that wee bit of experience as well, and I know what to expect, which will be nice.”