Ward drops bomb by turning pro 13 months before Tokyo
Ireland's Olympic boxing ambitions have suffered a major setback with confirmation that two-time world silver medallist Joe Ward is turning professional.
The Moate light heavyweight has signed a management contract with Times Square Boxing, based in New York.
Ward (26), the current captain of the Irish amateur team, is one of the country's most decorated amateur fighters, winning gold medals at both the World Junior and Youth Championships, as well as three European senior titles - the first when he was only 17.
He was Ireland's most successful male boxer at the World Amateur Championships, winning one bronze and two silver medals, but had an unhappy experience at the Olympics.
He failed to qualify for the London Games and was beaten in the first round in Rio four years later.
Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement - just 13 months away from the Tokyo Olympics - is extraordinary.
Even though there are doubts over whether boxing will be included in the Olympic programme, this issue is expected to be sorted before the end of this month.
Ward was tipped to win a medal in Tokyo and in the event of him securing gold, his value as a potential pro fighter would have soared.
While his talent is not in doubt, Ward is not noted for his commitment to training. It remains to be seen whether he will have the necessary dedication to make it in the ultra-competitive environment of professional boxing.
He is a home bird by nature and has a young family in Moate, but he will almost certainly have to move to either the UK or the US in order to train and secure quality sparring.
Ward said: "I'm excited to begin my professional journey under the guidance of Times Square Boxing,
"I loved fighting for Ireland and had a very rewarding amateur career. My decision to turn professional was not easy.
"I'm excited to represent my country in the professional ranks and bring a world championship home to Ireland."