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'I kind of feel like I was the nearly-man in my career. I don't want to be the nearly-man'

After losing half a year to injury, boxer Eric Donovan is keen to get a European title shot as soon as he can.

A YEAR AND a half ago, from the across his kitchen table, featherweight Eric Donovan laid out his plan of becoming European champion. 

Although he made it sound straightforward, he knew it wouldn’t be – very little in Eric’s boxing career had been straightforward up to then.

Even still, his determination was clear. He didn’t want to nearly become European champion. He wanted that belt.  

Everything went to plan early days, quickly earning a BUI Celtic title and defending it.

“For a while I thought, maybe it’s too good to be true. I started off brilliant. Momentum. On top of the world. Won the Celtic title in five fights. Beat the Welsh champion. Doing so well. Defended the title again. And then I hit that dip.” 

Eric Donovan commentating Donovan is regularly a pundit on RTÉ's boxing coverage. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

After winning his eight pro fight last July against the Bulgarian Samuil Dimitrov, a lingering hand injury developed into a frozen shoulder and threatened to derail his whole career. 

Surgery and a lengthy spell on the sidelines followed, and the Athy-native admits that he did think he may have to retire and abandon the road to the European belt. 

“But I’m back there. And that’s like life. It’s up and down. You go through speed bumps. But it’s important to stay mentally strong through all that. You would doubt yourself. You really would.”

“I’m trying not to take anything for granted anymore. It’s like a second chance.”

After losing six months to injury, 33-year-old Donovan is now keen to get a shot at the European title sooner rather than later. 

“It’s all about the opponents. It’s all about the opponents. I need to be boxing good seasoned professional boxers that’s going to bring out the best in me. 

Donovan drives an hour from Carlow to train with his coach – Olympic silver medalist and former Ireland teammate Ken Egan who recognises that the time for easing into professional boxing has passed. 
“I don’t want any journeymen”, Egan says.

“He doesn’t need journeymen. We don’t want four rounders. We don’t want journeymen that we know he’s going to blow away.”He’s been in with the best in the world as an amateur. He needs to be starting now to get some serious scalps on his list.”

With boxing in Ireland growing from strength-to-strength at the moment, and big fight nights happening on these shores again, Donovan is hopeful that the growing support will attract some big names.

“It’s hard to get fighters to come fight me – ones with decent records – because they might demand too much money. That’s why it’s very important to get a good fan-base behind me so we can bring over big opponents. But we need to fill arenas to be able to cover costs of all that.”

Kenny Egan and Eric Donovan Donovan and Egan were teammates on the men's elite squad in Moscow in 2010. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

The European featherweight belt is currently held by Spain’s Kiko Martinez – a man well-known to Irish boxing fans having gone toe-to-toe with Bernard Dunne and Carl Frampton in the past. 

“Kiko Martinez would be an ideal opponent for Eric”, says Egan. “But Eric needs to have ultimate conditioning. He needs to be ready to box, on his toes, for 12 rounds.

“Eric’s not a big puncher. He knows that himself. He’s not a banger. He’s not a knockout artist. We all know that. So what does Eric need to do? He needs to really polish up on his boxing skills.

“And I think if he did get in against Kiko Martinez, that’s what he would do. He would box Kiko. Make Kiko miss and just beat him easily on points. In an ideal world that’s the opponent we want in 12 months or 18 months. 

“Our next job now is to get Eric back in the ring in the next month or two. Get Eric in the ring, get him active and then we can make a plan from there. 

Despite the setbacks of injury, facing a veteran like Martinez doesn’t faze Donovan, who turned pro at aged 30, three years after he retired from the amateur game. 

“I’d love to fight him, I really would”, he says. “But to be honest with you, I don’t think he’s after titles anymore. Where he is in his career now he’s about money.

“It’s about financial security for the future. So he’s going to want big money. We just haven’t got that kind of dollar to attract him. And that’s just the reality of it. I’d love to fight him. There’s no doubt about that.

The title fight is on Eric’s mind, but is still at least a year away. And the boxing landscape could look very different by then, he notes. 

“It’s quite possible that he might vacate that European title to go on for a world title because that’s where the big paychecks are.

“The next two or three fights will tell me a lot. It’ll tell me how close or how realistic is this goal. If I do come through the next two or three, I think I should be talking about big fights then. Very, very close to a European title. 

“I kind of feel like I was the nearly-man in my career. I don’t want to be the nearly-man.”

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Ahead of a huge weekend of Heineken Champions Cup action, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey assess the provinces’ chances of putting a foot in the last eight:

Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42 / SoundCloud

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