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D-days dawns for Donovan

Stylish Eric is aiming to create memories

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Eric Donovan with Kenneth Egan

Eric Donovan with Kenneth Egan

Eric Donovan with Kenneth Egan

Tonight's the night Eric Donovan has been dreaming of since he watched his amateur career disappear down the tubes.

With the IBF Intercontinental Super-Featherweight title at stake, Donovan fights Manchester's Zelfa Barrett, knowing that a win propels him up the rankings and into the mix for the major European and World title fights he craves.

Unbeaten as a pro, Donovan (12-0, 7 KOs) is here on merit.

But at 35, he knows he took the long way round.

The Athy man was one of the most stylish boxers of the generation that created a squad of talented Irish Olympians.

However, the five-time national Elite champion sabotaged his career when he broke his hand in a late night brawl. The incident scuppered his chances of qualifying for the London Olympics.

Donovan went into exile.

An eight-month stint in Kazakhstan followed with Eric fighting in the World Series of Boxing.

Fighting for the Astana Arlans provided him with a whole new learning experience. And not just trying to communicate in Russian with a squad of hard men.

Boxing was changing. The headguards came off. The scoring changed to the 10/9 system.

The man who'd been known as a slick and effective counter puncher had to adapt quickly.

But Donovan was also fighting on another front. A stint in rehab saw him successfully turn his confused personal life around.

He completed a Diploma in Counselling and established himself as an in-demand fitness instructor.

The wider public got to know Eric as an insightful boxing analyst and commentator on RTE television. "I get to watch a lot of guys that I have fought, and often beaten," he told me once.

Some of the high profile names he'd beaten in the amateur ranks included James Tennyson, the European and British champion, Patrick Hyland, Declan Geraghty, Thomas Stalker and former AIBA Boxer of the Year Dominico Valentino.

The success of these guys became the catalyst for Donovan's switch to the pro game after three years out of the sport.

"I want to create memories and leave a lasting impression," he told me at the time. "I want to stamp my authority on the sport. I want to create a legacy."

He made his pro debut in June 2016 and immediately confirmed the earlier assertion that he was "a quick learner and very adaptable."

Donovan didn't make the decision to come back to boxing as a professional lightly.

He knew how the business of boxing could be difficult but he was diligent in his preparations.

This was his second chance and he believed in himself.

"I'm aiming to have an Irish title within five fights," he told me. "And then set my sights on European and World title fights."

The disruption to boxing events in Ireland following the Regency shooting delayed Donovan's timetable. But he won the Irish featherweight title in March of last year in emphatic style.

The IBF Inter-Continental belt he fights for tonight is another significant step on the road to the big title fights he wants to be involved in.

Donovan is under no illusions about the test he faces on this Matchroom Fight Camp show.

Zelfa Barrett (23-1, 14 KOs) won the British Super-Featherweight title in 2017 when he stopped Chris Conwell in the fourth round.

Since then he's won five and lost one, the IBF European title.

Winner Ronnie 'The Shark' Clark put him down in the sixth on the way to a majority decision.

Signed to Eddie Hearn's Matchroom, Barrett is regarded as a rising star and isn't short of self belief. He views Donovan as an obstacle in his way of fighting for a world title in the MEN Arena in Manchester.

"I believe I'm one of the best fighters in Britain," he insists. "I'm here to do a job on him. No disrespect to the guy. I'm going to look good doing it."