Eric Donovan – Allowing us to feel good about Irish Boxing

If it’s the hope that kills you, Irish fight fans are enduring a long a torturous demise.

It’s death by 1,000 disappointments only for an isolated performance or victory to inspire a miraculous moment and we hope again.

It’s what makes Eric Donovan’s clash with Zelfa Barrett so eagerly anticipated this weekend.

Such is the talent of the former amateur standout, upset hopes hit peak level and fight fans can see a dream rather than the more common nightmare scenario play out live on Sky Sports on Friday night.

With hope bordering on expectation, Irish fight fans sat fingers, toes and legs crossed all week for Donovan success. So much so, the briefest mention of his name in Irish boxing circles sends pits of stomachs scrambling. There is genuine nervousness among Irish fight fans ahead of the 35-year-old’s ranking title fight with Zelfa Barrett tomorrow.

That nervousness has roots in many trees.

There is always anticipation ahead of the possible buzz that a high-profile victory can provide. It’s that James Tennyson coming from behind to beat Martin J Ward ecstasy, that Anthony Cacace finally getting his breakthrough moment against Sam Bowen, the joy and the delight that came with Niall Kennedy upsetting Alexis Santos. It’s a buzz enhanced by the fact each were brought in as opponents and victory wasn’t in the script.

Hope of hitting such a high is strong in the case of Donovan. To be frank, this isn’t just a solid Irish pro with a relatively easy on the eye record getting the call to face a star. The Kildare fighter has more pedigree than the middle aisle of a SuperValu.

There are those who argue five Senior Championships, European bronze, European Union bronze, and a WSB team title mean nothing in the pros – but anyone who has seen the St Michael’s Athy BC graduate in pro action will known he has transitioned well.

Some may argue he hasn’t beaten the highest level of opposition, but small hall aficionados will note he has looked better against some of the regular away corner regulars than his counterparts – and that little bit of extra talent increases expectation and anticipation levels as a result.

There are also those genuinely just nervous for Donovan the person. The Kenneth Egan-trained fighter has become one of the more popular operators on the circuit. People respect the redemption story and Donovan’s honesty in that regard. They have also bought into the ‘comeback’ and the idea it’s never too late to dream.

It’s not that fight followers want prefer him specifically or want to see him do better than Sean McComb, Pierce O’Leary and Jono Carroll who fought on Wednesday night or Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan, Paddy Donovan, and Matthew Tinker who take to the ring on Saturday – they’ll bite their nails if things start to go wrong in those fight too. It’s more they know how much Friday night means to the Donovan and it’s obvious he is the only Irish underdog in action in what is a busy week.

The Kildare southpaw has called for his breakthrough chance, but gets it at 35 and above his natural weight against a Commonwealth champion Matchroom have big plans for. This is a Premier League playoff moment – it’s win to ensure you get play against the big boys or lose and continue going to Barnsley on a wet Wednesday night.

Another element to the fan tension leading into the Fight Camp card is the significance the fight can have on Irish boxing as a whole. No doubt a Donovan win would strengthened the hand of Mark Dunlop, as he continues to persuade Eddie Hearn to bring the Sky juggernaut back to Belfast.

However, it’s outside the capital of boxing where the benefits may be felt most. Boxing south of Belfast has been a painful experience of late. Even someone as TV and crossover friendly as Donovan couldn’t change that in recent years. However a win on Friday will increase his mainstream profile and could see more of the public invest time in him, which in turn would help clean the image of the sport in Dublin and beyond.

In keeping with the hope theme it would also feed ‘boxing back in Dublin’ hope, regardless of how unlikely that is at present. Not to mention it provides hope to all those competing on the small hall circuit at present.

If the Irish champion can work his way from the National Stadium and the Devenish to Matchroom headquarters and record a career changing win, why can’t other fighters competing at domestic level?

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com