'I want my kids to look at their daddy as a champion' 2 months ago

'I want my kids to look at their daddy as a champion'

'If you're lucky enough to get to box in front of a full house here, it's amazing,' Eric Donovan said as he looked up at the ring at the National Stadium.

I followed Donovan down the steps, through the tunnel and towards the canvas where he'll be fighting Stephen McAfee on March 30th for an Irish title.

Donovan yelled out a loud scream on his way to the ring, a primal yelp. His energy; contagious. His smile; beaming, from ear to ear.

The walk is a daunting experience for every fighter. The final frontier between you and the ring but for Donovan he's able to put it into some perspective as it wasn't too long ago that he was considering walking away from the sport.

"Life has a way of throwing curve balls at you," Donovan told me ringside.

"No matter what you're involved in in life, in all walks of life. It can be sport, non-sport, whatever, but for me I've felt like I've overcome a lot of adversity throughout my life but also in my boxing career as well.

"I had great momentum going as professional. I was 8-0 then I got plagued with injuries and I was on the sidelines and as a professional boxer you're not earning big money. It was costing me money to fight. I was asking myself 'where do I go from here?'

"I developed a frozen shoulder and it was highly unusual for a 32-year-old man at the time. The surgeon couldn't believe it as well. She put me on this treatment plan and nothing worked so the last option was surgery and then I was faced with the reality of do I need to spend thousands here when I've nothing in the pipeline. No title, no nothing, so what's going on?

"That really bothered me and I just thought of packing it in at the time because I thought I can do this and nothing could come of it. I could live a normal life with my shoulder but could I be a boxer?"

It's a question Donovan has been asking for most of his adult life. What else could he be? He was a kid that followed his brothers down to the local boxing club at the bottom of the council estate and he was throwing punches before he was even allowed to hit a heavy bag.

After a few years battling personal issues and injury, he's compiled an impressive 8-0 record as a professional fighter and he wants to aim for a European title should he defeat McAfee next month.

It's been a long road for the 33-year-old  but he finally feels like he's making up for lost time.

For years boxing was his outlet, his passion and in many respects his identity. When his Olympic dream was derailed by a broken hand from a fight outside of the ring, he was faced with some very tough questions about who he was and where he was headed next.

"I was three years out of the game before I turned pro," added Donovan.

"I had retired. I had went into education but I had a voice in my head telling me 'you've something left, you've something left'.

"I graduated with a diploma in 2015 and I was going to go for my degree but the conclusion I came to was 'I can always go back and do my degree but I can't always go back and box'.

"I know if I don't do it I'll regret it in seven or eight years time. I nearly went to the Olympics man and that caused me an awful lot of stress and sadness. I've achieved an awful lot with the European bronze, and number three in Europe and I was top 10 in the world at one stage, and that's all amazing, but I still wasn't content.

"I got lost in my own self. I got lost in my own career at times. I felt like I wasn't in control. I was like a leaf just blowing in the wind and in the gym I was great but outside I struggled with life.

"Socially I struggled. I was the ultimate pro but then on the outside I was kind of burning the candle at both ends. I didn't know how to deal with life. I became this boxer. Boxing became my identity. I left school at 15 and all I was was this boxer. I didn't know who I was ?"

Or who else you could be?

"Yeah I got back into education and I studied counselling and psychotherapy and I learned a lot about myself. Then I thought that I didn't really have control over my own boxing career. Imagine coming back and being able to write the last chapter?

"Socially I was dealing with a lot of issues. A lot of addiction issues, mental health, depression and in 2012 I looked for professional help and I was able to overcome. I got into a great place in my life. I became a new man, I changed old habits. Changed old ways. It was a lot of internal work and a lot of therapy and I got myself back into a position where I was in control."

When you sit down beside Donovan it's hard not to root for him. He's so open with both his achievements and his shortcomings, both inside and outside of the ring, and his energy is contagious.

Through education he discovered who he was and while he realised that he could be more than 'Eric Donovan; professional boxer', he still had a burning desire to prove to himself that he could reach the heights that he knew were possible all along. To fulfill the potential that had been there since he was a kid.

But then he had kids and his world changed. Two of them. And then he met his fiancee, Laura. And now they have become his motivation. They have become the people that he fights for. His purpose.

"I now have the opportunity to be the main event on one of the biggest Irish cards in this country in a long, long time," he notes.

"I get to fight live on tv [TG4] and it kind of sums up everything I've been through in my life. People say keep working hard. Keep working hard and your time will come and I feel like that time is now.

"I got engaged before Christmas to my fiancee Laura, we've been together going on five years now. I've two kids from a previous relationship. One child is 13 and the other child is six.

"They inspire me, the two kids because I want them to know that their daddy is a champion. That their daddy is a winner, in everything that he does. I want that to filter down towards them and hopefully they can learn some of the principles that I learned through boxing.

"The kids motivate me. Laura motivates me. She's doing a masters and she's building me up and she's got my back. I just feel like.. I just feel like.. she's going to be the woman that I'm going to marry next year and I want to do everything I can to set us up."

His dreams are big, his words have weight and his vision is clear. Now he just has to make that walk to the ring on March 30. His chance to get closer to a European title. His chance to get closer to fulfilling his potential.