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Stephen McAfee scores stunning split-decision win over Colin O’Donovan in another bloodbath

When they met in December, Stephen McAfee and Colin O’Donovan gave us a memorable fight and the Round of the Year.

Tonight the two super featherweight sluggers put on the guaranteed Fight of the Year for 2018 and one which will be talked about for decades – with Sallynoggin’s Stephen McAfee emerging the narrowest of split-decision winners to claim the BUI Celtic title.

The pair had fought to a bloodbath draw over six rounds on the undercard of ‘Celtic Clash 4’ but were given top billing here at Good Counsel GAA in Drimnagh. Indeed, despite just six previous bouts between them, the ‘Celtic Clash 5’ headliner was a match-up that captured the imagination of Irish hardcore fans.

Given a big build-up, the eight-round title fight was the perfect headline clash for the first small hall card in Dublin since 2015. The stage had been set however the fighters had to deliver – and boy, did they.

While he had taken the first fight on just seven days notice, O’Donovan had the benefit of a full camp here and was more aggressive this. The Youghal fighter, though, he was met by McAfee who put on one of the gutsiest displays in an Irish ring in recent memory,

While their first fight had ended with war, it was, as expected, a quiet opener tonight, with O’Donovan neatly circling as McAfee stalked, constantly on the front foot. Nothing of note was landed until the final thirty when a long left came in from southpaw O’Donovan. McAfee responded, bulling in with big shots on the ropes as O’Donovan covered up before unleashing a lovely uppercut on the inside – a punch he had major success with in their first meeting

The Cork fighter opened up in the second round, rifling in straight shots that pierced the guard of McAfee and sinking in some meaty bodyshots. There was bravado from both and McAfee was looking to land heavy, wide shots, but the round belonged to O’Donovan.

The straight left of O’Donovan was proving especially potent and was landing with regularity in the third. However, he did spend a lot of time on the ropes, riding much of McAfee’s shots but the Dubliner was landing and working enough to leave the scoring up for debate.

Blood had started to trickle in the third from McAfee’s nose and this became a stream as we approached half-way. O’Donovan’s feet had slowed somewhat, and McAfee was becoming slightly ragged – leading to an action-packed fourth as they traded, both having success, O’Donovan with cleaner, crisper shots, but McAfee with more volume and thudding blows.

McAfee was gutsy and game, but O’Donovan began to land clean, head-jarring blows in the fifth round threathening to take control before an amazing display of heart from the Dublin fighter.

‘Showtime’ Stephen came flying out in the sixth round, pressing O’Donovan into a corner and providing a 30-second toe-to-toe salvo reminiscent of the sixth in their first fight – the consensus Irish Round of the Year for 2017. This time, however, it was better. O’Donovan escaped and began to rattle of lovely straight shots as he circled before McAfee cornered him once again. The hell-for-leather trading resumed – with O’Donovan at one stage almost falling through the ropes – as the atmosphere in the tiny D12 venue went to another level.

Envigorated, perhaps, by this, McAfee began the seventh strong as well, landing big, clean, overhand rights, and bloodying the ‘Rebel Rouser’s’ nose. This good work, punctuated by O’Donovan’s regular flashes of quality, provided a close round – after which McAfee saluted the crowd, raising the decibel levels once again.

There was a curt touch of the gloves at the start of the eighth and final round, a show of respect from the two claret-covered warriors before another frankly unbelievable stanza. O’Donovan dominated the early exchanges, landing volley after volley of clean shots. Somehow though, it was McAfee who finished the stronger, bringing his opponent to the corner once again as they traded to the bell.

Going to the cards, the first ever BUI Celtic fight to feature three scores, we were split.

The first tally called was 77-75 to McAfee before a 77-76 to O’Donovan was announced. It all went down to the final card – 77-76 was read out and then, after an extended pause, McAfee was confirmed the victor as his fans invaded the ring.

BUI Celtic featherweight champion Eric Donovan would present the Dubliner with the 130lbs equivalent and he will now move into the Irish top four at the weight

The win also sees McAfee improve his record to 3(2)-0-1, while O’Donovan drops to 1(1)-2(1)-1 – however, this was not a night about records.

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)


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Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie