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'I’ve no doubts. It’s more curiosity... How good am I?'

Eric Donovan faces a career-biggest test in Dublin’s National Stadium tonight.

CljleR4WkAA25OR Eric Donovan fights Dai Davies for the BUI Celtic title tonight Source: Andy Lee (boxer)

“I REALLY CAN’T wait,” says Eric Donovan. And you’d believe him.

“I’ve loads of fans coming up. I’ve three buses!”

Tonight he faces Welshman Dai Davies in his fifth professional boxing contest. The BUI Celtic featherweight title is on the line at the National Stadium, but more pertinently, so too is the perpetuation of a belated dream; before turning pro on a whim, Donovan spent over a decade fighting as an amateur, winning five Irish Senior Elite titles and a European bronze in Moscow in 2010, but missing out on what was once his white whale: the Olympic Games.

A colleague, Joe O’Neill of Irish-boxing.com, describes Donovan as ‘the thinking man’s boxer,’ which adequately speaks to the undeniable charm to the Athy fighter’s professional aspirations. He’s the everyman trapped in a boxer’s body, surely incapable of thumping the head off some lad, you’d assume, until you see him step through the ropes and do wreck.

It’s this rare quality, perhaps, which has caused people to gravitate toward him during his belated professional journey.

At the beginning of my career it was hard enough to get one bus to come up. Now I’ve three buses coming up from three different towns. One from Drogheda, one from Ballymore Eustace, and one from Athy – along with the many, many people who are driving up. It’s brilliant for me.

“I’m attracting sponsorship now,” he continues, dripping with sweat mid-warm-down. “They’re coming in and supporting me, and the great thing about that is how it gives me reassurance. It’s almost like, ‘Okay Eric, we’re backing you.’ ‘All right, let me off the leash and let me go and do what I do.’ It’s brilliant.

“I’ve always worked hard, always prepared well, and always believed – even when I hadn’t got sponsorship, even when I hadn’t got fans wanting to come and watch me box. I had to keep believing in what it was that I wanted, and hope that one day that people would believe in me too, and that’s what’s happening now.

“People are starting to sit up and take notice – and get behind Eric Donovan, the ‘Lilywhite Lightning.’ Bernard Dunne did it, people believed in him and they got behind him. I’ve got World class credentials and attributes, so it’s a matter of me believing in that and developing more and more, and keep taking risks.”

Facing veteran Davies in just his fifth paid bout is a risk indeed; he sports a modest 14-25-2 record, but the Welsh champion has put an end to five undefeated records, including that of Belfast’s Marco McCullough in 2011. He’s beaten English champion Andy Townend, and drew with current IBF World bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell in 2006.

Donovan’s amateur pedigree speaks for itself, but as a late bloomer in the pro ranks at 32, the Kildare southpaw is under no illusions as to the acid test he’ll face on Dublin’s South Circular Road tonight.

“I’ve always said it to myself, ‘How good am I? Where can I go? What can I do?’” he says. “These are the questions that I’m always asking myself, on a daily basis. So when you get the opportunity to fight a proven professional boxer, I wanted to take that with both hands and relish it.”

My record looks very nice already, very pretty, 4-0 with three KOs, but now I’m up against a boxer who’s not a journeyman; someone who’s been in with a lot of good guys, someone who’s went to people’s own back yards and caused an upset. So that’s going to motivate me for Saturday night.

“I know that I’ve a guy waiting on me who genuinely believes he’s going to win, and that for me will bring out the best Eric Donovan. I know what he has. I’ve watched him, a lot of his fights. He doesn’t really change. He hasn’t got many, many strings to his bow. But he’s a very good, solid professional – tight, compact, throws a lot of shots, good engine, and takes a good punch as well.”

“This is a risk-reward fight. It’s a high risk, but a humongous reward for me. It can catapult me right up there, and that’s why I’ve taken it. I’m not interested in sitting around, padding out my record. I want to go and answer them questions in my head.”

And if those answers transpire to come up negative, so be it.

There’s an endearing element of arse-chancery to the RTÉ analyst’s new career path; he’s cognizant of the fact that there may be a ceiling to his ascent, hence why his end-game is not world glory, as it is for the majority of men who lace up a pair of gloves, but a European title of some sorts. And then see what happens.

It’s a play-it-by-ear career, but scarcely shy of boxing’s usual toils. Donovan is prepared for war on his turf tonight, and he doesn’t envisage it as being his last.

“I’ve no doubts,” he says. “It’s more curiousity. I don’t fear losing because I’ve lost before in big fights. I lost in my fight to qualify for the [2008] Olympic Games, which was a huge blow for me. All them were learning experiences for me. It’s a journey.

“I’m prepared for it, and when you’ve prepared for something 100%, you can just go in there and the rest is out of your hands. You hope that whatever you’ve done, and whatever you’ve displayed on the night, is enough to win.

I’m prepared to go down in the trenches with any boxer and give the fans what they want. I’m a boxer, out-and-out counter puncher, but I can be very, very aggressive and be a toe-to-toe fighter, as well, when I need to be. I wont lose a fight very easily. If you’re going to beat me, you’re going to have to put in a career-best performance, because I won’t go down without a fight.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube


Tickets for Celtic Clash III: Donovan vs Davies cost €30 (Balcony), €40 (Gallery), €60 (Ringside), €100 (VIP Premium), and €15 (Under-15s gallery – must be bought alongside an adult ticket). They’re available to purchase from the Healthy Living Centre in Athy by calling Laura on (086) 7949 406, or online at Ticketmaster.ie.

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